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New Rental Laws: How to Stay Legal

Posted by Johnine Larsen on May 30, 2019
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The Washington State legislature passed some new rental laws, and all tenants and landlords had better brush up. The new rules won’t go into effect until July, but to stay legal, landlords will want to prepare for those changes now. Specifically:

 

Longer Notice for Rent Increases

Washington State landlords currently need to give tenants at least 30 days of notice before raising rent. In Seattle, if the rent increase will be more than 10 percent, landlords must give at least 60 days of notice.

Come July, though, 60 days of notice before a rent increase will be mandatory for everyone state-wide, regardless of how much rent is going up. A 1% rent hike in Spokane? Still gotta give 60 days of notice. This also applies to “no-fault” termination of tenancies.

The only exception: subsidized housing, where rent is tied to income. Such programs follow their own set of rules.

Why the change? More heads up for tenants. In today’s housing market, 30 days to find a new place or adjust your budget to a rent increase asks a lot of a tenant. This bill makes things easier on them.

The Bill: HB 1440

 

Longer Notice for Late-Payment Evictions

Right now, if a tenant is behind on rent, a landlord can evict them with three days of notice.

From July on, it’ll take 14 days of notice. Landlords trying to evict because of missed payments must also provide a standardized notice to vacate that:

  • explains exactly what the tenant needs to do to make up the missing rent payments
  • presents the total amount due, broken down by type of charge
  • provides information about low-cost legal help through the office of the Attorney General
  • provides information about 2-1-1, which connects people to services
  • provides information about a tenant’s right to an interpreter in court
  • explains what constitutes a legal response to the landlord

Why the change? The current three-day timeline makes it difficult for tenants to scrape together money, apply for rental assistance programs, or move into a different housing situation. With 14 days, things get more realistic.

The Bill: SB 5600

Want more information about evictions? Check out this great guide from The Brink Law Firm.

 

More Leeway For Late Payments

From July 2019 onward, if a tenant fails to pay rent on time, they can no longer be held responsible for a landlord’s attorney fees if the amount they owe the landlord is less than $1,200 or 2 months rent (whichever is greater). Other new leniencies: late fees for missed rent payments get capped, and judges have more discretion in restoring tenancy.

To help landlords, too, when there’s an outstanding judgment, a landlord will be able to get reimbursement from the Department of Commerce.

What’s the rationale? Financial evictions disproportionately affect women and people of color (black tenants most of all), and most of those evictions happen because of less than $1,000 in missed payments. Giving grace to tenants while also not unfairly penalizing landlords has a big potential impact: “We have heard definitively from experts, and from those directly impacted, that evictions are the leading cause of homelessness in Washington state,” said Senator Patty Kuderer. “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.”

The Bill: SB 5600

 

Three-Month Notice For Building Change

Right now, developers can eject life-long tenants whenever they want to make significant changes to the building, with only minimal warning to the tenants.

But once July rolls around, if a landlord wants to demolish, majorly rehabilitate, or repurpose a building (like replacing apartments with condos), they must give tenants at least 120 days of notice.

That doesn’t apply to month-to-month renters, however.

Why the change? The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Andrew Barkis, cited the Tiki apartments incident in Tacoma last year: tenants were given just 25 days to move out after their building changed hands. This bill will prevent a crisis like that from happening again.

The Bill: HB 1462

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