Critics warn “just cause” eviction bill will backfire

Critics warn “just cause” eviction bill will backfire
HB 2453 is intended to protect tenants from retaliatory eviction or non-renewal of lease agreements, but opponents warn it will hamstring landlords from removing disruptive tenants. Photo: freepik.com

HB 2453 sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43) would require that landlords evicting a tenant or refusing to renew a lease agreement do so only under specified reasons articulated in the legislation.  The proposal is intended to prevent tenants from facing retaliation by a landlord, but critics at a Jan. 24 public hearing of the House Civil Rights & Judiciary Committee warned that the bill would not only hamstring a landlord or property manager’s ability to deal with troublesome tenants, but it would also put other tenants living in the same building at risk.

While the bill is touted as a tenant-protection proposal, Washington Multifamily Housing Association (WMHA) Director of Government Affairs Brett Waller told Lens “this really impacts low income tenants who don’t have the means to just up and move because their neighbor is a problem.”

Under current law, renters may lease a unit from a landlord for a specified amount of time such as month-to-month or annual leases. Tenants who terminate the lease prior to the agreed terms may face a penalty, while landlords who intend not to renew the lease must provide 20 days written notice before the end of the lease agreement.

HB 2453 would change this by prohibiting a landlord from evicting a tenant or not renewing a lease except under 13 causes that include:

  • “Chronic, harmful and unjustified” failure to pay rent;
  • “Substantial breach” of tenant obligation or subsidized housing program;
  • The owner wishes to use the property and “no substantially equivalent unit is vacant and available”; and
  • The landlord offers a new rental agreement at least 30 days prior to the end of the current lease and the renter does not sign.

The landlord must provide evidence to support whatever the cause may be for eviction or not renewing the agreement. Seattle, Federal Way and Burien already have “just cause” laws on the books.

Marci told the committee that the bill is intended to address “a loophole in Washington’s fair housing laws and other legal protections for tenants.” She added that allowing landlords to not renew leases without explanation creates a “fundamental imbalance in the landlord-tenant relationship since housing, we know, is a life-sustaining necessity. The state finds interest when there is public good beyond just what the contractual relationship can govern.”

However, opponents such as Executive Asset Manager Chris Dobler with Tacoma-based Dobler Management argued at the Jan. 24 public hearing that the bill “does nothing to protect our employees who enforce the rental contracts and the policies in the apartment communities in which the residents reside. They’ve had family members threatened. They have also had to call 911 numerous times for law enforcement support. They have had many of their fearful residents give their notice to move due to the behavior.”

Walker said that even when the police get involved in a dispute, “most often they say ‘this is a civil issue and you need to deal with it civilly. (In) very few cases police will arrest the person. This bill will increase the rent, increase the screening behavior.”

“Please consider that everybody at Western State (hospital) lived somewhere else before they got there,” landlord Dan White told the committee. “This bill presupposes that landlords like to terminate rent-paying tenants. Let me tell you the last thing someone like me wants to do is have a vacancy and disrupt my life.”

HB 2453 is scheduled for a Jan. 31 executive session.

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