Trio of eviction-reform bills working their way through Council

Three tenant-rights bills, all sponsored by Council member Lisa Herbold, got a hearing in committee this past Tuesday; one passed out of the committee and the other two are still in the works.

All three bills address issues raised in the “Losing Home” report published last year by the King County Bar Association and the Seattle Women’s Commission. That report looked at several problems in the eviction process, and made recommendations on how to make it fairer, more equitable, and less likely to drive people into homelessness.

The one bill that passed out of committee is the most straightforward: it updates the city’s laws to align with changes in state law passed into law during this year’s state legislative session as Senate Bill 5600 and House Bill 1440.  Among the changes in those bill:

  • The period after a notice of eviction has been served before the eviction can move forward was changed from 3 days to 14 days.
  • The definition of “rent” was updated. It now reads: “recurring and periodic charges identified in the rental agreement for the use and occupancy of the premises, which may include charges for utilities. Except as provided in section 6(3) of this act, these terms do not include nonrecurring charges for costs incurred due to late payment, damages, deposits, legal costs, or other fees, including attorneys’ fees.”
  • Payments received by a landlord must be applied to rent due first, before being applied to any other fees.
  • Landlords must provide a 60-day advance notice of any rent increase.
  • Certain exemptions are provided for affordable housing providers who set rent based upon a tenant’s income.

The changes in state law went into effect in July. Herbold’s bill passed unanimously out of committee and will come up for final approval when the Council returns from recess in September.

The second bill restricts in certain ways a landlord’s ability to limit the number of people living in a rental unit, while still respecting occupancy limits defined by federal, state and local law. Under this bill, a landlord must allow:

  • A tenant;
  • the tenant’s family or household members;
  • an additional person who is not a family or household member;
  • that additional perosn’s family or household members.

“Family or household members” is defined in the bill:

spouses, domestic partners, former spouses, former domestic partners, persons who have a child in common regardless of whether they have been married or have lived together at any time, adult persons related by blood or marriage, adult persons who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past, persons 16 years of age or older who are presently residing together or who have resided together in the past and who have or have had a dating relationship, persons 16 years of age or older with whom a person 16 years of age or older has or has had a dating relationship, and persons who have a biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and stepchildren and grandparents and grandchildren.

The bill also prohibts landlords from changing the number of tenants allowed when a tenant moves out; for example, if a unit has three tenants (sharing the rent to make it affordable) and one tenant subsequently moves out, the landlord must allow a new tenant to move in so that the unit doesn’t become prohibitively expensive for the two remaining tenants.

Finally, the bill prohibtis landlords from adding any new conditions when a new tenant moves in, such as stricter screening criteria than was used for the original tenants.

There is an exemption included for federally-assisted housing units, because in that case landlords are required to deny tenancy to someone on the lifetime sex offender registry or who has been convicted of manufacturing or selling methamphetamines on the premises.

The bill will receive a second hearing with possible amendments and a vote out of committee on September 10th.

The third bill relieves survivors of domestic violence from liability for damages done to a rental unit if the damage was done by the perpetrator. It requires the survivor to provide the landlord with proper notice and documentation: either a protection order, or a report to a “qualified third party,” defined as:

people acting in their official capacity as law enforcement officers, a regulated health professional, court employees, licensed mental health professionals or counselors, trained advocates for crime victim/witness programs, members of the clergy, or case managers at social service agencies

The report to the third party must include the following information:

  • The tenant or the household member notified the qualified third party that the tenant or household member was a victim of domestic violence;
  • The time and date the act or acts of domestic violence and property damage occurred;
  • The location where the act or acts of domestic violence and property damage occurred;
  • A brief description of the act or acts of domestic violence and property damage;
  • The tenant or household member informed the qualified third party of the name of the perpetrator of the act or acts of domestic violence and property damage

This bill is still a work in progress. Obviously there is a concern that this would simply shift the burden for the cost to repair the damage between two innocent parties: from the domestic violence survivor to the landlord. Ideally the perpetrator would be liable, and the Council’s staff is still working with the City Attorney’s Office to determine whether existing law establishes that liability or whether it needs to be further written into law. But there’s another catch: in order for the landlord to be able to pursue the perpetrator for the damages caused, the name of the perpetrator would need to be disclosed to the landlord, typically as part of the report given to the  qualified third party. Those reports, however, have confidentiality provisions in order to protect the DV survivor, and Council staff is still researching under what circumstances the perpetrator’s name (and the report itself) can or should be disclosed to the landlord.

This bill is also expected to have a second hearing, with possible amendments, on September 10th, though given the issues and complexities it may get pushed out further.

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