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Washington Governor Signs Sweeping New Eviction Bill

Washington Governor Signs Sweeping New Eviction Bill – Rental Housing Journal

A sweeping new eviction bill has been signed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee requiring landlords to give tenants 14 days to respond to an eviction notice instead of the current three days.

The bill also allows judges to impose payment plans, so that tenants can remain in their homes while they repay what they owe.

The eviction bill,  SB 5600 ,  a comprehensive change to the current Washington landlord-tenant law, requires uniform eviction notices written in plain language available to landlords for use that includes information on civil legal aid resources available to tenants and where to find translated copies of the notices.

“We have heard definitively from experts, and from those directly impacted, that evictions are the leading cause of homelessness in Washington State,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), the bill’s sponsor, in a release.

“When the Senate formed the new Housing Stability & Affordability Committee, we redirected our statewide approach on homelessness to include prevention. This legislation is a significant step in that direction,” Kuderer said.

“The eviction process can be complicated and overwhelming for anyone facing the possibility of homelessness. Simplifying language is about more than conveying information to tenants, it is about increasing accessibility to a legal system in which they have every right to participate.”

Opponents of the bill say it will drive small landlords out of the business and make the housing crisis worse.

“Not all landlords are just rolling in cash,” said Puyallup Republican Rep. Chris Gildon in an interview with the Seattle Times. “It will result in the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do.”

Landlords’ associations objected to the bill in the weeks leading up to the vote on similar grounds, saying that adding more than a week to eviction periods would cause property owners to risk missing their own mortgage and utility payments.

Along with extended wait times, the bill also proposes giving new power to judges, who would be allowed to temporarily block evictions based on factors including the tenant’s payment history and whether they had made a good-faith effort to pay.

A summary of the new Washington eviction bill

  • Extends the 3-day notice for default in rent payment to 14 days’ notice for tenancies under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.
  • Requires the 14-day notice to be written in plain language and include information on civil legal aid resources available, if any, to the tenant.
  • Extends the mandatory notice period from 30 to 60 days when landlords propose a rent change amount. Requires a landlord to first apply any tenant payment to rent before applying the payment toward other charges.
  • Prohibits continued tenancy and relief from forfeiture to be conditioned upon tenant payment or satisfaction of any monetary amount other than rent.
  • Provides the court with discretion to provide relief from forfeiture or to stay a writ of restitution.
  • Requires a landlord to provide a tenant with documentation regarding any damages for which the landlord intends to retain any of the deposit amount.

Staff summary of public testimony in favor of the new eviction bill – the pro arguments

There is a need to overhaul our statewide approach to housing and homelessness by focusing on prevention as opposed to being primarily reactive. Inflexible eviction policies are a major source of housing instability around our state.

If we are serious about long-term prevention, we must address this primary driver of homelessness. Currently, 26 states and the District of Columbia have pay-or-vacate notice periods longer than three days, including some with a 14-day notice. Washington State is outside the norm and for individuals living paycheck to paycheck, which is now nearly half of all Americans, these extensions of notice matter. We should also offer resources, flexibility, and compassion to help, since one unexpected medical bill or car accident or government shutdown can lead to an eviction.

The bill gives tenants more time to pay rent, although 21 days would probably be best to deal with most medical emergencies since it can take several weeks or even months to heal and be able to deal with outside responsibilities. Housing stability is crucial for healing. Emergencies happen to everyone at all income levels and we all need flexibility to deal with them. Over three-quarters of tenants in the city of Seattle who received notices to pay and vacate for failure to pay rent ended up vacating their apartments.

The leading cause for eviction in a recent survey revealed tenants were behind a month or less or rent and most of those tenants were either in western Washington (but not Seattle), or in eastern Washington. The reforms in the bill are not going to increase housing costs. Some landlords will apply rent payments to overdue utilities instead of rent. The rental system is literally designed to kick people when they are down; in contrast, when a homeowner becomes delinquent on their mortgage payment, they have at least 90 days before issuance of a notice of default.

Our eviction system is a complete mismatch with homelessness interventions. There is not nearly enough time for a tenant to get rental assistance to their landlord before the costs and the risks escalate. Attempting to get legal aid might eat up two days, so the current time period is not long enough. Once the paperwork is filed, the tenant is almost always forced to pay extremely expensive attorneys’ fees in court costs as well as late fees. Some tenants might be lucky enough to get homelessness assistance to help pay off these costs.

Ohio and New York City allow judges to consider circumstances as to why a tenant fell behind on rent. Seventy-one percent of the lowest-income households in Washington state are paying over 50 percent of their income towards rent, which means that one small household crisis can lead to the inability to pay rent on the first of the month. Judges have little discretion over the process and tenants often leave court owing much more in court costs and attorneys’ fees than they ever owed. The Legislature must seriously consider the significant race and gender issues at stake – female-headed households and people of color are much more likely to face eviction in Washington state. Black women are four to five times more likely to face eviction.

If we are going to get Washington state ahead of its homelessness crisis, we must keep people in their homes and protect tenants. Over the past five years, 132,000 adults have been formally evicted in Washington, which is 1.8 percent of the state’s population. Informal evictions are even higher. Nine percent of the black adult population in King County has an eviction; in Pierce County, 17 percent of the black adult population has had an eviction. Across the state, women are evicted 50 percent more than men. Forty-six percent of renters are rent-burdened. The number of individuals becoming homeless continues to outpace our efforts.

Extending the current three-day notice to allow up to 14 days for rent to be paid would make a significant difference in preventing homelessness for these households. It is going to be adequate for the tenant to go to a program, do the intake, verify the debt, contact the landlord, and make the payment. We also need to ensure all eviction notices have information about legal resources, and we need to allow courts to come up with alternatives.

Staff summary of public testimony against the new eviction bill – the con arguments

The attrition rate of landlords shows that they are getting out of the business because they can no longer afford it or handle the risk.

Landlords are selling by the thousands in a market that is fairly high right now. This is going to devastate the amount of rental housing inventory. Just like tenants, landlords also are one medical trip to the hospital or one crisis away from having the same sort of issues. Many are struggling day to day as well. Many landlords’ profit-loss statements for one year do not show that they are making money.

With property taxes and operating costs, landlords are just one late mortgage payment away from losing their buildings. By the time a tenant replies to a three-day notice, there is an additional 10 days for them to come up with funds or work with the landlord, of which many do work with their tenants. Communication between the tenant and the landlord is critical.

Many landlords do not want the vacant unit or to have turnover costs, so landlords want to keep tenants in the units and keep them maintained in a good working order. Some landlords offer payment plans or provide education information about the consequences of not paying rent.

There is concern that the remedies proposed in the bill may reduce a landlord’s flexibility to work with tenants. Many of the remedies proposed may not actually address the true causes of homelessness or housing availability and affordability, which is more of a supply-and-demand issue.

Landlords are not interested in arbitrarily terminating a tenancy since it costs money to do so. The Legislature should work with both landlords and tenants to create a regulatory environment that is fair and protective. The Legislature needs to put together a work group to look at all of the landlord-tenant bills and solve the issues before the end of this session. The plain language requirement for the 14-day notice should be written into statute.

Lawyers should not have to argue in court as to whether or not a particular notice is in plain language. Both the landlord and tenant lose if eviction notices have to be issued.

Many landlords try to work with the tenant in multiple ways over an extended period of time and use eviction as a last-case scenario. If the bill passes as is, all tenants will eventually absorb the resulting costs and unintended consequences. The bill would force landlords to stop working with tenants and immediately start the eviction process as a result of the increase in timeframes and costs.

The three-day notice is only a nuclear option for some landlords. Most tenants respond when they get a three-day notice on their doors. Extending the notice to 14 days is going to cause landlords to be more aggressive with tenants. One alternative is to only allow a longer notice period for first-time late rent or fees. Language regarding a term lease not coming to an end is concerning. A lot of landlords own a single rental property, but because of a work reassignment they have to rent out their home for a period of time. Also, having a month-to-month renewal on fixed-term leases is difficult for landlords of student housing since the transition of students year after year without automatic renewal allows students to know that housing will always be available. Language regarding the provision of written estimates for move-out costs is also concerning. Some repairs are custom jobs and not done through a vendor. There needs to be a distinction made between single family homes versus a one thousand unit apartment community. It is problematic to have the same rules apply to very different types of rental housing.

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