OLYMPIA - The Washington State Legislature narrowly passed legislation last week that would give tenants new protections.
Senate Bill 5600 would extend the 3-day notice for default in rent payment to 14 days notice for tenancies under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.
The legislation would also require the 14-day notice be written in plain language and include information on civil legal aid resources available, if any, to the tenant. The mandatory notice period would be extended from 30 to 60 days when landlords propose a rent change amount.
Other changes in the legislation include requiring a landlord to first apply any tenant payment to rent before applying the payment toward other charges and prohibits continued tenancy and relief from forfeiture to be conditioned upon tenant payment or satisfaction of any monetary amount other than rent.
Under the new law, the bill provides the court with discretion to provide relief from forfeiture or to stay a writ of restitution.
A landlord would be required to provide a tenant with documentation regarding any damages for which the landlord intends to retain any of the deposit amount.
Supporters told lawmakers the statewide approach to housing and homeless needs to be overhauled.
"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. Over the past five years, 132,000 adults have had been formally evicted in Washington, which is 1.8 percent of the state's population."
Supporters continued to add the bill gives tenants more time to pay rent but added 21 days would probably be best to a deal with most medical emergencies since it can take several weeks or even months to heal and be able to deal with outside responsibilities, like paying rent.
"Housing stability is crucial for healing. Emergencies happen to everyone at all income levels and we all need the flexibility to deal with emergencies. 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."
But landlords and the Washington Landlord Association argued that the legislation does a great amount of harm to landlords.
Those opposed to the bill said the attrition rate of landlords show 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. Landlords are also one medical trip to the hospital or one crisis away from having the same sort of issues as tenants. Many are struggling day to day as well. With property taxes and operating costs, landlords are just one late mortgage payment away from losing their building.
Some landlords argued the 3-day notice to vacate should not be changed.
"By the time that tenant replies to a three-day notice, there is an additional ten 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 have turnover costs, so landlords want to keep these tenants in the units and keep them maintained in a good working order. Some landlords offer payment plans or provide educational information about the consequences of not paying rent," opponents argued.
Opponents also argued 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.
District 13 lawmakers Tom Dent and Alex Ybarra voted against the legislation. Judy Warnick, who is also from District 13, voted in favor of the bill.
The bill was delivered to Gov. Inslee's desk on April 29 and awaits his signature.
The bill goes into effect on July 28, 2019.