This session began in the darkness of the Omicron surge and ended in optimism just hours before the expiration of Washington’s indoor mask mandate.
The multifamily housing industry once again faced several tenant activist proposals. Thanks to our stellar government affairs team in Olympia, WMFHA was successful in defeating attempts to further hamstring housing providers after nearly two years of eviction moratoria and many other extreme challenges the industry faced valiantly.
The sacrifice, empathy, and professionalism of small and large landlords during the pandemic certainly got the attention and sympathy of some lawmakers.
A combination of engagement from our members, coordinated industry lobbying efforts, a strong public affairs program, key legislators taking a stand for housing providers, and political climate all played a part in our collective successes.
The following are highlights from our work in Olympia this session:
Supplemental Operating Budget
Our lobbying team helped secure $27M in funding for the Landlord Mitigation Program (LMP).
The initial budget proposal only included an $11M increase to the LMP, so WMFHA actively lobbied and secured $16M in additional funding to significantly expedite the reimbursement process for landlords from the LMP program that had quickly fallen into huge arrears.
This funding will address the enormous backlog that exists as a result of allowing access to the program for COVID-related nonpayment of rent when a tenant voluntarily vacates or abandons a unit or defaults on repayment plans.
The budget also dedicates $2M to reimbursements sought under SHB 1593 (details below). The budget will be effective on July 1, 2022.
Priority Bills That Passed
All adopted bills, once signed by Gov. Inslee, will become effective June 9, 2022.
SHB 1593 – Expanding access to the Landlord Mitigation Program for Victims of Domestic Violence
This bill was proposed by WMFHA and supported by our long-term partners at Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN).
The measure allows landlords to seek reimbursement of up to $5,000 from the LMP when a resident terminates their tenancy in accordance with RCW 59.18.575 – victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, unlawful harassment, or stalking.
To be eligible, the landlord must return the full security deposit to the tenant and must forgo any collection actions against the tenant.
SSB 5749 – Methods of Rental Payments
Requires residential and manufactured housing community landlords to accept a personal check, cashier's check, or money order for any payment of rent made by a tenant by mail, unless an accessible onsite location to pay rent is available.
However, such landlords are not required to accept a personal check for payment of rent if the tenant has had a personal check written to the landlord or landlord's agent returned for insufficient funds or account closure within the previous nine months.
ESHB 2064 – Security Deposit Options
This legislation creates requirements around the use of security deposit alternatives. It also provides transparency of the product to tenants including maximum insurance coverage, and clearly identifies tenants remain liable for unpaid rent and damages, despite paying a "fee in lieu of a security deposit."
This means that the property is the insured and the leasing consultants are considered the insurance agents. There is no real direct relationship with the insurer and the tenant.
Housing Bills That Did Not Pass
SHB 1904 – Notice of Rent Increases
Thankfully, this bill, skirting around the edges of rent control, did not advance during the session due to intense industry opposition.
As introduced, it would have:
- Required landlords to provide at least 180 days’ notice for rent increases of over 3 percent.
- Allowed a tenant to terminate a tenancy for any rent increase over 3 percent upon receipt of that notice.
- Limited late fees to 1.5 percent of the tenant’s monthly rent.
The bill was amended in its committee to require 180 days’ notice for rent increases of above 7.5% and limited late fees to $75 and passed on a 5-4 vote with one Democrat crossing over in opposition with Republicans.
WMFHA continued to oppose the bill as amended and was successful in keeping it from being brought to the full House for a vote.
SB 5576 – Eviction Reform
Another ongoing tenant protections measure, this bill as introduced would have:
- Amended the 14-day notice for the 4thtime in 4 years.
- Amended the summons (to include both the CLEAR line and Eviction Defense Line).
- Amended the law to clarify that a 14-day notice can be served after expiration of the offer of the payment plan (14-days).
- Permitted virtual representation of the tenant by counsel and virtual participation.
- Amended notice of ERPP to permit compliance with statute by serving ERPP notice.
- Removed 3 pay or vacate language from RCW 59.18.410 and language related to its use following the end of the eviction moratorium.
WMFHA was successful in keeping the bill from coming to a vote before the full Senate.
HB 2017 – Housing Justice Act
This bill would have prohibited the use of criminal history in screening criteria, except for sex offender registry information. It received a robust public hearing but did not advance out of its committee.
HB 1300 – Addressing Security Deposits
While this legislation was passed out of the House committee on a party line vote of 6-3, it did not come up for a vote on the House Floor. It would have:
- Required housing providers to make copies of estimates and invoices for any repairs and deductions available within 30 days of termination.
- Defined normal wear and tear to include breakage or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition.
- Prohibited deductions because of:
- Carpet cleaning unless the housing provider could document damage beyond normal wear and tear.
- Repair and replacement of fixtures, equipment, appliances, and furnishings if their condition was not reasonably documented in the written checklist.
- Permitted a tenant to request a walkthrough prior to the termination of the tenancy and required the landlord to comply.
- Created a one-year statute of limitations on collection actions for money owing for damages.
HB 2023 – Addressing Enforcement of Tenant Protections
This bill would have permitted tenants to file a civil complaint for any breach of landlord duties under the RLTA, including a show cause hearing and trial where a material issue of fact remains. The bill received a hearing in committee but was never acted upon.
Other Bills that Passed (Not Housing Issues)
Majority Democrats came to Olympia this year with two high-profile priorities at the top of their list – fixes to the publicly-reviled long-term care program and police reforms passed last session. Both topics were addressed at the beginning of session, so as not to detract further from other legislation or to quell public sentiment.
Additionally, for the second year in a row, Democratic leadership asked their members to introduce no more than seven new bills this session, and for committee chairs to limit the number of bills passed out of committee to ease the burden of a mostly virtual session.
They also asked members to limit the focus of their bills to “Serve Washingtonians better, strengthen economic well-being, advance racial equality and justice, and address the climate crisis.”
During the 2019-20 biennium, lawmakers introduced 2408 bills and passed 868. In the 2021-22 biennium, they introduced 1559 bills and passed 307 bills, a substantial reduction.
This narrow policy focus again paid off, with majority Democrats checking off many of the items on their to-do list. For the most part, the bills passed in the second year of the biennium – the short session – are less bold than the major laws passed in the first year, the long session.
2022 is also a major election year with the entire state House of Representatives and half the state Senate appearing on the November ballot. WMFHA will be watching these races closely and meeting with candidates to educate them on our industry needs.
Building relationships with elected officials allows our industry access to share our viewpoints. WMFHA’s Political Action Committee (PAC) will remain an influential tool in our efforts to ensure public officials understand the importance of responsible policy that supports, not harms, the rental housing industry.
We continue to strive to advance policies that create more diverse housing development throughout our state to address the demand/supply imbalance currently stressing housing affordability.