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New laws pushing rental homes off market, landlord warns

New laws pushing rental homes off market, landlord warns

State lawmakers have sought to improve the rental market through a variety of bills including a statewide “just cause” eviction policy via HB 1236 approved during this legislative session. However, one Seattle landlord warns that these and other local housing policies have only made the situation worse by pushing rental homes off the market.

More than half of rental homes are owned and managed by small housing providers, according to the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA). Washington Policy Center Small Business Director Mark Harmsworth recently noted that the number of rental homes sold or taken off the market due to owner occupancy has increased dramatically in the past year. Harmsworth attributes this to the ongoing eviction moratorium that prohibits landlords from removing tenants for unpaid rent.

“For the property owners, the moratorium on evictions has placed their own homes and safety in jeopardy,” he writes. “The lack of rental income has created a situation where they can’t pay the rental property mortgage and their own home mortgages and are being forced to make a hard choice.”

Yet, Seattle landlord Carol Willison says it’s by no means the only reason people like her are choosing to sell.

“The moratorium has just added another layer to competition to being a landlord in Seattle,” she said. “I see people only being able to afford apartments (in the future).”

Willison and her husband have rented single family homes in the Seattle area for more than 40 years. However, she said in recent years more and more restrictions have been placed on them either by the state or the city. Among them is a “roommate law” that took effect last July in Seattle. Under that policy, landlords are required to permit occupancy of a rental property by the tenant’s “roommates” and “immediate family.” Willison notes that those relatives may not meet normal tenant criteria otherwise required. 

“The Seattle City Council has tasked the landlords to take care of all of the social ills that have plagued Seattle,” she said. “It’s a very inequitable burden.  The city of Seattle knows which houses are rental houses. You have to register that home. They have the capability of saying ‘we’re not going to raise property taxes on these homes.’ They don’t do any of those things. We just have to absorb all of those costs.”

In response, she and her husband have sold numerous single-family homes in the past several years; all but one of them being occupied by the buyer, effectively removing the home from the rental market.

Willison notes that these rentals make it possible for people to live in a single-family home rather than an apartment, and for them to have access to quality neighborhoods and schools where home ownership may be beyond their income levels. Making the situation even worse is the skyrocketing price of timber, adding $36,000 on average to the cost of a new home.

“People want their children to have a yard, to have a garden…even though it entails more responsibility of taking care of the property,” Willison said. “I see it’s just a rotating thing that’s getting worse and worse for people that are on the lower end of the income. They’re just having to move out of the areas to less desirable schools, less desirable neighborhoods. The lower income range (residents) get pushed out.”

It’s also pushed investments outside of Washington. Willison said they’ve now shifted toward commercial real estate in states like Texas and South Carolina. “The money has left the state. It is out of the state coffers. I am no longer paying property taxes. It’s generating income in other places, not in Washington.”

In a recent post, RHAWA wrote that “Washington’s policymakers should prioritize an effective offramp that modifies the current one-size-fits-all policy to protect small housing providers that are trying to stay afloat. Not to mention – they should also continue to create and approve rental assistance programs and funding to make up for the loss of rental income, which in some cases, is well over a year’s worth.”

Inslee’s eviction moratorium is extended until June 30.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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