King County Passes Duplicate Tenant Protections

Posted By: Brett Waller Advocacy News , COVID-19 Resource Center ,

On Tuesday, June 29, the King County Council passed an ordinance creating local tenant protections for parts of unincorporated King County. This is a case of smoke and mirrors as many of the tenant protections passed on Tuesday are already included in state law. It is another instance of local elected officials touting “big wins” to boost their base of supporters in an election year and pretend to show they are making the affordable housing crisis affecting our region better, when in fact they are making it worse.
 
Despite the industry’s pleas to this effect, to avoid creating a web of duplication and regulatory overreach, the council used tactics straight from the Seattle City Council that does not create more affordable housing or incentivize partnerships with the very housing providers who provide affordable housing in the county. 
 
The law applies to and affects properties in unincorporated King County only. You can learn more about unincorporated King County here. Unincorporated King County generally means properties located in Ames Lake, Baring, Boulevard Park, Bryn Mawr – Skyway, Cottage Lake, East Renton Highlands, Fairwood, Fall City, Greenwater, Hobart, Mirrormont, Ravensdale, Riverbend, Tanner, Union Hill-Novelty Hill area, Vashon, and White Center. 
 
Below is a summary of the new law:

  • Prohibits a requirement of the applicant to provide a social security number in an application, but does not prohibit the landlord from taking adverse action based on f inaccurate, unfavorable or unavailable screening results.
  • Limits all move-in fees and security deposits to one month’s rent. These are “fees charged to a tenant before the tenant moves into a unit.” However move-in fees is not defined in the law. 
  • Permits tenants to pay move-in costs in installment payments distinct from the state law that provides for installment payments for move-in costs. 
    • Leases 6 months or more equal to 6 equal monthly installments over the first 6 months.
    • Leases less than 6 months equal to two equal monthly installments over the first two months.
    • Does not include last month’s rent in the installment payment.
  • Codifies locally the state’s just cause eviction requirements and adds additional requirements, including: 
    • Reduces the standard of noncompliance with the rental agreement to “noncompliance with a material term of the rental agreement.”
    • Permits termination where the tenant without the consent of the owner 
    • Permits termination by knowingly allowing an animal that has been declared vicious
    • Creates retaliation prohibitions including prohibitions on “representations, omissions, acts or practices that mislead or are likely to mislead a tenant; the tenant's interpretation of the representation, omission, act or practice is reasonable under the circumstances; and the representation, omission, act or practice is material.”
    • "Unfair or abusive acts or practices" materially interfere with the ability of any tenant to understand a term or condition of the rental agreement or the tenancy; or taking unreasonable advantage of a lack of understanding on the part of the tenant regarding the conditions of the tenancy or rights under the law or the inability of the tenant to protect the tenant's interests.
  • All notices must identify the facts and circumstances known and available to the landlord at the time of the issuance of the notice. 
  • Late fees cannot exceed 1.5 percent of the tenant’s monthly rent.
  • The rental agreement must describe when late fees may be assessed. Under state law late fees cannot be assessed until 5 days after rent becomes due. 
  • Any rent increase exceeding 3 percent must be provided with 120 days’ notice, except where the rent is based on the tenant’s income.  
    • Rent increases are prohibited where the tenant has notified the landlord of a defective condition in accordance with state law (RCW 59.18.070). 
  • Tenants may propose an alternative due date for payment of their rent when they provide the request in writing and their primary source of income is not received until the date rent is due in the rental agreement. 
  • Acceptance of rent waives the right to proceed on an existing 10-day notice. 
  • Requires any 14-day notice to include specific provisions in 16 point bolded font.
You have fourteen days to pay the rent required by this notice. After fourteen days, the landlord may allow you to pay the rent in lieu of initiating eviction proceedings, but you may be subject to a late fee, if a late fee is required in the rental agreement, totaling no more than one and a half percent of your monthly rent for each month of rent owed and any court costs incurred at the time of payment.
  • Creates a private right of action permitting up to double the tenant’s economic and noneconomic damages or three times the monthly rent and reasonable litigation costs and fees. 
  • Provides a right to counsel for indigent tenants in all unlawful detainer actions through the Department of Public Defense. 
  • Requires the County Executive to:
    • Develop standard form notices to be used when terminating a month-to-month or fixed term tenancy. The notices will be translated into the 10 most commonly spoken languages used in King County. 
    • Transmit a “tenant protections access plan” by June 30, 2022 with the goal of expanding knowledge of and access to tenant protections in the King County code to both landlords and tenants. 

These protections were unnecessary for the county to pass, and only create more confusion in an already complicated and over-regulated industry.