Tacoma Rental Housing Code

Posted By: Brett Waller Advocacy News,

Since April, WMFHA and local housing providers and other rental housing associations have been working with the City of Tacoma to find reasonable common ground on a rental housing code that emerged due to public outcry. We are where we are because of one unfortunate incident that caused the displacement of 58 low-income families. The residents of this community were extremely low-income and many were disabled. Their compelling stories and difficulty finding new homes garnered a tremendous amount of public support and the commitment of action from the Tacoma City Council. This incident became a politically charged media frenzy.
Like any proposal, we must evaluate how to tackle its content. Sometimes, we can defeat legislative policy and other times we can only make legislative policy better. In this case, we’ve worked with our partners and those that have been involved to make the outcome of a very unfortunate incident something a lot better than it could have been given the political momentum. What yesterday’s email doesn’t provide is a description of all the work we’ve done and continue to do to mitigate the issues being proposed in Tacoma from being harmful to the industry. 

Here are some of the successes within the policy that we negotiated:

  • We defeated a proposal for just cause eviction
  • We negotiated a tiered rent increase notice requirement instead of a mandatory 90-day rent increase notice requirement
  • We fought a provision requiring landlords to provide notice to tenants of code violations
  • We reduced the amount of Tenant Relocation Assistance from $4,000 per unit to $2,000 per unit
  • We’ve so far prevented a 90-day notice to terminate for any reason. Yes, 60 days is not ideal, because it is not the status quo but it is better than 90 days or more

There are some issues the City Council is adamant about that must be included in the proposal despite our strong objections. 
Many of our members in Tacoma have been heavily engaged in this process and have helped mold this policy from being unduly onerous to being something more manageable. Their work on these proposals has been extremely helpful in pushing back and providing context on our positions. We encourage all our members to remain engaged in the legislative process. Building relationships with policymakers in your community is your opportunity to contact them when another member of our industry, whether a member of WMFHA or not, makes an error in judgment resulting in public outcry and legislative action. 
There is still some work to do on this policy and WMFHA continues to make sure this policy is not made worse by last-minute anecdotes that provide little opportunity to make this situation any better. Outright opposing the policy and alienating policymakers from the trust we’ve built is not the right approach.   

On Thursday, September 27 at 4:00 PM the Tacoma City Council's Community, Vitality and Safety Committee will consider a draft ordinance which creates more protections for renters. The proposed Rental Housing Code is the product of a stakeholder group that met several times from June to September. 
The proposal includes eight new requirements in the City of Tacoma:
  1. Increasing the notice requirements to terminate a month-to-month tenancy from 20 days to 60 days
  2. Increasing the notice requirements to terminate a tenancy when the owner seeks to substantially rehabilitate, demolish, change the use of, etc. a residential rental property to 120 days
  3. Creating a Tenant Relocation Assistance Program for units undergoing renovation or change of use
  4. Requiring tenant relocation assistance when the rental property is condemned
  5. Increasing the notice requirements for rent increases of 10% or more to 60 days
  6. Requiring housing providers to provide a “Summary of Rights & Obligations” to residents at the initiation of the tenancy and at renewal
  7. Requiring housing providers to provide information in screening criteria describing how to look up code violations
  8. Adding administrative enforcement provisions for both retaliation and source of income discrimination
  9. Permitting applicants to pay move-in costs (security deposit and last month’s rent) in installment payments
While we have expressed support for some of the targeted policies, it is vital the Council hear your personal stories and the impact these policies will have on your business. It's particularly important they hear issues related to the safety of yourself, your residents, and your on-site teams.   
We are committed to finding ways to create stable, long-term and sustainable housing options for all residents in the City of Tacoma.