A controversial Senate bill that would put more control in tenants’ hands is moving through the Legislature.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, is the bill’s prime sponsor and also chair of the Senate Housing Stability & Affordability Committee. Kuderer said one of the major challenges of the committee has been overhauling the statewide approach to the homelessness and housing crisis.
“We’ve heard comprehensively that inflexible eviction policies are a major source of housing instability around our state and that if we are serious about long term prevention we must address this primary driver,” said Kuderer.
Some landlords worry that the bill might have unintended consequences on the affordable housing market and that property owners might not be willing to take the risk to rent with the new laws in place.
SB 5600 is a comprehensive bill with several goals.
First, it would extend the pay-or-vacate notice for default payments from 3 days to 14 days.
Kuderer said that is especially important because it could help people who are short on rent by giving them time to receive another paycheck or otherwise come up with rent money. Three days is simply not enough time, she said.
Second, landlords would be required to provide a more uniform 14-day notice to tenants that outlines costs owed. They also would be required to provide information on where to go for legal help or advocacy resources.
Additionally, the Department of Commerce would be required to provide translated versions of the 14-day pay-or-vacate notice on its website. The translations would have to be written in the 10 most-spoken languages in the state.
Next, it would require landlords to first apply any other tenant payments, like deposits, to late rent before they can apply it to any other charges.
The inability to pay bills other than rent also would not be a legal reason for landlords to evict tenants, but landlords would retain the ability to pursue other avenues in order to collect late payments, damages or other fees.
Finally, the bill would provide courts with more discretion to either allow the tenant to remain in the home or order the tenant to leave. The burden of proof would be on the tenant.
Property managers Deni Cole and Don Campbell from Lakewood spoke with The News Tribune to voice their concerns over SB 5600.
“We all agree there is a homeless problem, and we all agree that affordable housing in the area is not plentiful,” said Campbell. “I understand that the Legislature wants to find ways to add housing, to make sure it stays affordable and to make sure that people are treated fairly. But it’s not just the tenants that need to be treated fairly.”
Cole and Campbell said that the new bill, if enacted, would be too much of a liability on property owners.
“Mom and pop” businesses would be hurt the most. Additionally, putting them out of business would allow bigger conglomerates to scoop up those houses, which would only continue to compound the affordable housing problem, they said.
Cole and Campbell said that as property managers they wouldn’t be opposed to new landlord-tenant laws as long as those laws are equitable for landlords as well.
“Instead of blanket legislation over the whole industry, why don’t they go through public records and find the bad landlords and regulate them,” said Campbell. “Why are we going after everyone?”
They were particularly concerned about the extension to a 14-day pay-or-vacate notice. A 5-day notice would be more acceptable and wouldn’t have as much of an effect on property owners who are also just trying to pay their bills, they said.
The bill also saw some resistance from committee members, including Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, who don’t agree that the pay-or-vacate notice should be extended to 14 days. Zeiger’s recommendation for a 5-day notice was not passed.
SB 5600 passed through the Senate Housing Stability & Affordability Committee on Feb. 18.