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Senate approves eviction protections

As the end of an emergency eviction moratorium looms over thousands of Washington renters, a bill requiring landlords to have just cause for evicting a tenant passed the House of Representatives in a 54-44 vote March 7.

“Stopping evictions means preventing homelessness,” Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, told the House as the bill’s primary sponsor.

HB 1236 puts an end to “no-cause evictions,” which some described as yet another way for landlords to practice discrimination against tenants. The bill defines reasons landlords can use to justify their reasons for eviction, such as nonpayment of rent and illegal activity, but would ultimately stop them from forcing someone to move out with little to no warning.

This comes following the approval of another tenant protections bill, which passed the Senate in a 29-20 vote March 4. SB 5160 outlines legal and financial protections for both landlords and tenants in another attempt by lawmakers to address what many call an approaching housing crisis.

“We have to have a system in place that opens up opportunities for landlords and tenants to communicate with each other,” Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, told the Senate.

SB 5160 went through several changes from its original, which included an extension of the eviction moratorium by two years.

The engrossed second substitute removed the extension and instead waives any late fees for someone who could not pay rent during the public health emergency. The bill also includes a guaranteed right to counsel for tenants who face civil action, as well as expanded access to rental assistance and housing resources.

Senators who opposed the bill said the protections focused too much on renters and ignored problems property managers will face if they can not pay their own costs, which include property and utility taxes.

“The amount of intricacy in this bill creates so many little problems that it can result in more problems, not less,” Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said.

The substitute bill now includes access to rental assistance for landlords, which could come from COVID-19 federal relief funds, the state emergency solutions grant program or consolidated homeless grant opportunities.

The Office of Civil Legal Aid must set aside funds for tenants who go to court with their landlord. The cost is estimated at $22.2 million between 2021-23. Landlords do not have the same automatic right to free counsel as renters under this bill.

Fortunato also called out bad actors who have the means to pay their rent but choose not to.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said a sweeping law like this could address issues in highly populated urban areas, but would only hurt smaller property owners in rural areas.

“What we’re experiencing is one-off landlords, landlords who owned little homes who just sold their homes because they can’t deal with the loss anymore,” Rivers said. “That home is no longer a part of the rental market, so we down here are actually experiencing a rental crisis.”

Kuderer said protections for tenants are vital to keep the houseless rate from “skyrocketing” after the end of the moratorium. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows more than 134,000 Washington residents face eviction after the end of the moratorium March 31.

“Provisions in this bill are aimed at ensuring that does not happen,” Kuderer said.

SB 5160 moves onto the House for further consideration. HB 1236 is scheduled for an 8 a.m. public hearing in the Senate Committee on Housing & Local Government on March 11.

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