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Mid-Session Legislative Update

February 9, 2020

This Week in Review:

We are half-way through the 2020 legislative session with several bills having made it out of committee.

Legislators have introduced several bills to address affordable housing, more housing, housing tenants with criminal records and more tenant protections. There was even a bill for rent control.

It is still too soon to see the effects of housing policy (ESSB 5600) passed last year. However, we know that without a more balanced approach, we will continue to see more landlords leave the market reducing the number of units available/ Please contact your legislators to tell them how proposed or passed housing polices have affected your business.

We successfully defeated the ban on the use of criminal records (SB6490/HB2878) when screening an applicant. We expect this bill to come back next year and are open to talking with other the stakeholders to learn where we can work together to provide safe housing for residents, housing providers and staff.

Below is a summary of each bill that has passed out of committee.

FORCED LEASE TERM (Just Cause) HB2453/SB6379

This bill will require landlords and property managers to renew all leases for all renters unless Just Cause exists to end the tenancy.  A landlord may not evict, refuse to renew, or terminate any tenancy subject to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA), except for 13 enumerated causes:

Notices must identify the facts and circumstances that support the cause or causes with specificity. With respect to any incidents alleged, and to the extent known and available to the landlord at the time the notice is issued, the landlord must identify the evidence he or she will rely upon; however, the landlord is allowed to present other evidence regarding the allegations within the notice where the evidence was unknown or unavailable at the time the notice was issued.

Occupants: Where a tenant has permanently vacated for reasons other than termination by the landlord, and occupants co-resided with the tenant prior to and up to the tenant's vacation with the landlord's approval, the landlord is required to provide a 15-day notice upon the remaining occupants offering to allow them to continue the tenancy. In the event that the occupant does not accept, the landlord may commence an unlawful detainer action.

A landlord may not unreasonably withhold approval from a potential occupant, and shall approve or disapprove on the same basis that the landlord approves or disapproves of any new tenant. Where the tenant seeks to co-reside with a potential occupant in order that the tenant may provide care to the occupant because of the disability of the occupant, the landlord is prohibited from considering the potential occupant's income and credit in isolation. The landlord is not precluded from denying co-residency where it would violate applicable occupancy standards set forth in state or local law.

LATE FEE GRACE PERIOD HB2535

Landlord may not charge late fees for past due rent unless the rent is at least five days past due. If the rent is more than five days past due, the landlord may charge late fees commencing from the first day after the due date until paid. A rental agreement may not include a provision pursuant to which the tenant agrees to pay late fees for rent that is paid within five days following its due date; however, if rent is more than five days past due, the landlord may charge late fees commencing from the first day after the due date until paid.

DEPOSIT AND FEES PAID IN MONTHLY INSTALLMENTS HB1694

This bill is a a carry over from last year and mirrors Tacoma's installment payment plan ordinance to allow tenants to pay fees, deposit and last months' rent in payments.

Upon written request from a tenant, a landlord must generally permit the tenant to pay any deposits, nonrefundable fees, and last month's rent in installments, as follows: In all cases where premises are rented for a specified time that is three months or longer, the tenant may elect to pay in three consecutive and equal monthly installments, beginning at the inception of the tenancy. In all other cases, the tenant may elect to pay in two consecutive and equal monthly installments, beginning at the inception of the tenancy. A landlord may not impose any fee, charge any interest, or otherwise impose a cost on a tenant because the tenant elects to pay in installments. Installment payments are due at the same time as rent is due. All installment schedules must be in writing and signed by the landlord and the tenant. A landlord is not required to permit a tenant to pay in installments if the total amount of the deposits and nonrefundable fees do not exceed 25 percent of the first full month's rent and payment of the last month's rent is not required at the inception of the tenancy. Representative Morgan would like to increase the payment plan to up to six months and require landlords to offer the payment to applications.

DEPOSIT RETURN, MOVE-OUT PROCESS AND DOCUMENTATION HB2520

This bill will change how landlords documents condition of the unit at move-in, charge for damaged items, the move-out inspection and deposit disposition.

A landlord may not withhold a deposit on account of wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises. Current references in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) to "normal wear and tear" and "reasonable wear and tear" are amended to refer to wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises. "Wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises" is defined as deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling unit, including breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition. Such wear does not include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises, fixtures, equipment, or furnishings by the tenant, immediate family member, occupant, or guest. The written checklist or statement (checklist) that must be provided at the commencement of the tenancy generally covers the same fixtures, equipment, and furnishings, but specific references are added to wall paint, wallpaper, and other flooring in addition to carpet. With the statement required within 21 days after termination of the rental agreement and vacation of the premises, or abandonment, the landlord must include copies of estimates received or invoices paid to reasonably substantiate damage charges. Where repairs are performed by the landlord or his or her employee, if a deduction is made for materials or supplies the landlord must provide a copy of the bill, invoice, or receipt and a statement of the time spent and the reasonable hourly rate charged. Provision is made for the landlord to document the cost of materials or supplies already possessed or purchased on an ongoing basis. No portion of a deposit may be withheld: for wear resulting from ordinary use; for carpet cleaning unless the landlord documents wear to the carpet that is beyond wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises; for the costs of repair and replacement of fixtures, equipment, appliances, and furnishings if their condition was not reasonably documented in the written checklist supplied at the commencement of the tenancy; or in excess of the cost of repair or replacement of the damaged portion in situations in which the premises are damaged in excess of wear resulting from ordinary use, but the damage does not encompass the entirety of the item. A tenant may request a walk-through of the premises not more than 30 days and not less than 14 days before the termination of the rental agreement. Immediately following the walk-through, at which the tenant may be present, the landlord must provide a written checklist specifically describing the condition and cleanliness of, or existing damages to, the premises. The written checklist must be signed by both the landlord and the tenant, and the tenant must be provided with a copy. Any action to recover sums exceeding the amount of the damage deposit must be commenced within one year of the termination of the rental agreement or the tenant's abandonment of the premises. Damages for wear resulting from ordinary use of the premises or not substantiated by documentation, including the walk-through checklist if a walk-through was requested by the tenant, may not be: charged to the tenant; reported to any credit agency, tenant screening service, or prospective landlord; or submitted for collection by any third-party agency. The requirements with respect to checklists and documentation do not apply to situations in which part or all of a security deposit is withheld by the landlord for reasons unrelated to damages to the premises, fixtures, equipment, appliances, and furnishings, such as for rent or other charges owing.

LANDLORD MITIGATION FUND FOR VICTIMS ATTEMPTING TO FEEL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ASSAULT AND UNLAWFUL HARASSMENT, OR STALKING HB2732

The Landlord Mitigation Program is expanded to allow landlords' claims up to $5,000 for damages to rental property when: the tenant has terminated his or her tenancy pursuant to the provision in the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA), which allows tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking to terminate; the property has sustained damage beyond normal wear and tear; the landlord has, within 21 days of termination: provided the tenant with a statement regarding the basis for retaining any of the damage deposit; and rather than retaining any of the damage deposit for those damages, returned the full damage deposit to the tenant; and the landlord has agreed not to proceed against the tenant to recover sums exceeding the amount of the damage deposit.

A landlord in receipt of reimbursement from the Program is prohibited from taking legal action against the tenant for damages attributable to the same tenancy or pursuing collection or authorizing another entity to pursue collection on the landlord's behalf. The form set forth in the RLTA, and utilized by a qualified third party as the record of the report of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking, is amended to require the qualified third party to verify that he or she has informed the tenant about the Program and Commerce's form for reimbursement. The landlord who seeks reimbursement for damages from the Program under these circumstances is prohibited from retaining any portion of the tenant's deposit or proceeding against the tenant to recover sums exceeding the amount of the tenant's deposit for damage to the property.

TENANT'S LIABILITY FOR DELINQUENT UNPAID UTILITIES HB2069

A municipal utility provider is prohibited from collecting delinquent charges from a rental property owner or placing a lien on a property due to a tenant's delinquent account when the utility account is in the tenant's name. A municipal utility provider is prohibited from collecting delinquent charges from a new residential tenant utility customer, provided that the new customer is not a person who lived on the property or premises with the residential utility customer listed on the delinquent account. A municipal utility provider may only collect payment on delinquent charges from the customer listed on the utility account. A property owner must notify a utility service provider of a tenant's vacation of the property within 14 days of the owner's actual knowledge of the vacation, if requested by the service provider. If a service provider makes the request and the property owner fails to provide notice, the service provider may collect a tenant's delinquent charges from the owner but only for charges incurred after the tenant vacated the property. The requirement that a service provider establish an account in a tenant's name, if requested, in the event of a pending disconnection due to a property owner's delinquent account in a multiple residential rental unit that receives utility services through a single utility account is removed, and the provision becomes discretionary. Provisions related to requests between a municipal service provider and a property owner of notification of a tenant's delinquency are removed. Provisions do not apply to property zoned for commercial or industrial use. Commercial use does not include any form of residential property.

PREVENTING A BAN ON WINTER EVICTIONS SB6651

In an attempt to stop Seattle's Winter Eviction ordinance, being voting on by the city council on February 10, 2019, cities and counties may not enact ordinances that prohibit, for any period of time, evictions of tenants by landlords in a single-family, multifamily residential rental unit, or manufactured/mobile home community unless compensation of rent is provided to the landlord. If a city imposed on ordinance that prohibits evictions for any period of time, the city is required to compensate the landlord for rent otherwise due by the tenant.

Seattle's proposed ban on Winter Evictions prohibits landlords and property managers from filing an unlawful detainer between the dates of November 1 to March 31. Therefore, SB6651

ADDITIONAL TENANT PROTECTIONS: CHANGES TO ORIGINAL 14-day notice BILL SB6378

This bill proposes to remove several of the cornerstones negotiations we made to last year in good faith. Now the tenant advocates are trying to go back on their deal. Here is a summary of the proposed changes to last years ESSB 5600.

Landlords must accept any pledge of emergency rental assistance funds provided to the tenant from a governmental or nonprofit entity before the expiration of any 14-day notice to pay or vacate for nonpayment of rent for any amount owing under the rental agreement.

The prohibition against a tenant who has been served with three or more 14-day pay or vacate notices for nonpayment of rent within 12 months of the notice to pay or vacate upon which the unlawful detain action proceedings is based from accessing judicial discretion is eliminated. Any application seeking relief under the exercise of judicial discretion may be made by either the tenant or landlord. Any court order finding that the landlord may apply to the landlord mitigation program for reimbursement after the exercise of judicial discretion must also be accompanied by a copy of the order staying the writ of restitution.

A court may require that service of an ex parte order staying the writ of restitution be made by personal delivery, mail, facsimile, or other means most likely to afford the tenant notice of the court date.

Landlords may not threaten a tenant with eviction for failure to pay nonpossessory charges not related to rent owed.

A court may not award attorneys' fees to the landlord in any judgment that restores possession to the landlord if the judgment is entered after a tenant's failure to respond to a pleading or other notice requiring a response or failure to appear in person at a subsequent hearing.

A tenant may propose altering the date rent is due in the rental agreement, and the landlord must agree to the proposal if the tenant submits it in writing and can demonstrate their primary source of income is a regular, monthly source of governmental assistance that is not received until after the date rent is due in the rental agreement.

BILLS to WATCH:

HB2453
HB2535
HB1694
HB2520
HB2732
HB2069
SB6378
SB6651

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LandlordSolutions does not provide legal advice. The information we provide is general information for landlords. If you need legal advice or have questions about the application of the law in a particular matter, you should consult a lawyer.

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