Legislation to Help Renters Introduced in Olympia

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This week State Senators David Frockt (46th District) and  Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th District) have introduced an important renters’ rights bill in response to a meeting I convened last month.  The bill, Senate Bill 6292, was heard just yesterday in the 2014 State Legislative Session. SB 6292 would require landlords to provide tenants with 90 days’ written notice for any new rule of tenancy, including a change in the amount of rent charged.  A number of landlords and their lobbyist testified against the bill, so it’s important that supportive tenants contact their legislators in support of the bill as well.  You can find your legislator here:  http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Not only do rent increases in Seattle lead the nation, but some rent increases are actually used to circumvent other tenant protections such as the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO). Each year more and more tenants find out they were deprived of critical relocation assistance following a massive rent hike due to loop holes created by state law.

Just this week I learned of a 21 unit building whose residents are faced with rent increasing from $750.00 to $1,800.00 per month effective March 1, 2014.  There is no limit to how much a landlord can raise the rent. This is an example of a legal rent increase, but we are pretty sure that the rent increase was given to circumvent the TRAO.  You see, the TRAO entitles low income renters who have to move because of renovations to money to help thempay their moving costs ($3188).  But if a tenant moves because of a big rent increase, they won’t get the assistance.  I wrote more about this issue in October.

Some property owners do this as a regular business practice.  And it’s happening with greater frequency.  In September we heard about the Lockhaven Apartments.  Last January, it was the Prince of Wales.   In 1999, I led the Council in passing the requirement that larger rent increases, those of 10% or more, can only be given after 60 day notice.  In the rest of the state, no matter what the size, rent increases can be given with only 30 days notice.  But, we are limited on how we can address these problems in private rental housing because of these words:  “The imposition of controls on rent is of statewide significance and is preempted by the state. No city or town of any class may enact, maintain, or enforce ordinances or other provisions which regulate the amount of rent to be charged…” RCW 35.21.830

Last month, I convened a meeting between State Senator David Frockt and renters receiving excessive rent increases to talk about this problem and the options that the State Legislature can pursue in addressing this issue.  Here is the King5 coverage of that meeting.  The bill that Senators Frockt and Kohl-Welles introduced this week was in response to the testimony they heard from renters at this meeting.  I thank them for their swift response to my request for action.

I have always been a strong supporter of tenants’ rights and will continue to be one.  On Thursday I will be meeting with State Legislators to talk about the importance of this bill.