State & Local Government Affairs Report
State Legislative Update
The Washington State Legislature convened its eight and a half week (60 day) session on January 11. Sentiment across the board from lawmakers is to keep focused on issues that must be addressed and end on time. There is widespread, significant fatigue coming off the longest legislative session in state history in 2015.
The legislature operates on a biennial system. Odd numbered years, dubbed the ‘long session’, focus largely on the legislature adopting its biennial operating, capital and transportation budgets. The even numbered, ‘short session’ years are primarily focused on supplemental budget adoption and often little policy advancement. Legislation that was not enacted in 2015 is technically still ‘alive’ in 2016.
There are several bills of interest to the multi-family industry that are carried over from 2015 and many new bills that have been introduced in 2016. Below is a summary of the proposals and links to the bills if you wish to review them. WMFHA’s Government Affairs Team has categorized theses bills by order of priority and likelihood of gaining traction. Those bills without a position listed are bills that are new in 2016 and have yet to be formally reviewed by the WMFHA Government Affairs Committee. You will notice the absence of rent control legislation on this list. While nothing has yet been introduced, WMFHA is expecting some rent control proposal and stands prepared to defeat any such legislation.
High Priority Legislation
SB 6413 / HB 2811: Omnibus Landlord-Tenant legislation / Portable Tenant Screening
For at least 5 years tenant advocates have proposed and supported legislation that would try to force landlords to accept a screening product that is referred to as a portable screening report. [Click here to review the 2015 proposal]. The tenant supported legislation defines a "comprehensive screening report". It then provides that if a landlord is given the ability to securely access such a report but the landlord instead wants to use its usual screening company, the landlord would not be permitted to charge the applicant for the screening fee for the alternate report. WMFHA and most other landlord groups have strenuously opposed this legislation. We have argued that landlords should be encouraged but not required to accept the "portable screening product".
Prior to 2015, WMFHA and other landlord groups in Olympia had been successful in defeating such proposals. However, tenant advocate groups increased their efforts and adopted a more sophisticated approach which included targeting moderate Democrat and Republican legislators. Their efforts in the Democratically controlled House of Representatives were successful and the bill passed the House 51-47. While we were successful in defeating the legislation in the Republican controlled Senate, we faced pressure from some legislators urging the industry to attempt to find a compromise.
WMFHA and other landlord groups have worked with lawmakers to craft legislation that removes the mandate to accept the reports and instead focuses on only requiring landlords to indicate on their websites and on the mandatory screening criteria information that is given to prospective renters whether or not the landlord will accept the "comprehensive portable/reusable tenant screening report".
The new compromise legislation also addresses the issue of a screening company's ability to report filed eviction cases. Tenant advocate groups have fought for years that screening companies be prevented from disclosing the existence of a filed eviction lawsuit that has been sealed by a court order or did not result in a judgment in favor of the landlord. [Click here for 2015 legislation]. WMFHA has argued against the legislation because the proposals have lacked direction to govern rules or procedures for sealing such court files. The new ‘omnibus’ bill requires a judge to make the decision whether the filed eviction case should not be reported on a screening report. This is a requirement WMFHA has consistently insisted upon and believes addresses the issue while not sacrificing important information to the landlord.
Finally, in exchange for the industry compromising on these issues, the bill extends the time limit for return of a security deposit from the current 14 days to 21 days. WMFHA believes that this ‘omnibus’ bill is a reasonable compromise.
SB 6441: Increasing the notice of termination for tenancies
This bill is unusual in several areas. The prime sponsor is a legislator from Vancouver and that city has recently enacted an ordinance that requires a landlord who owns 5 or more rental units to give a 60-day notice of termination to a month-to-month tenant. Yet this bill only requires a landlord and a tenant to give a 30-day notice of termination. Further, the bill requires both the landlord and the tenant to give a 60-day notice of termination if the tenancy has been in existence for 2 years.
SHB 2051 / SB 5377: Requiring 90-days Notice for Rent Increases of 10% or more
Seattle already has an ordinance that requires 60-days notice for a rent increase of 10% or more in any 12-month period. These bills would authorize but not require a city to adopt a law that could require 90-days’ notice for such a rent increase. They would also increase the number of people who would qualify for relocation assistance if a property is demolished or substantially remodeled. WMFHA opposes these bills.
HB 1565 / SB 5378: Makes Source of Income a Protected Class
The title of the bills has been changed from previous versions but the effect is the same. They would make Section 8 voucher holders a protected class across the state. WMFHA opposes these bills.
HB 1573 / SSB 5221: Allows for Disposition of Tenant’s Property after Eviction
The bill allows a landlord to dispose of any tenant property that has been removed from the unit during a physical eviction after a 5-day waiting period. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 47 – 0 but did not get reported out of the House Committee. WMFHA supports these bills.
SB 6239: Authorizes Multifamily Tax Exemptions for Existing Buildings
The bill authorizes local governments to grant real estate tax exemptions to existing multifamily properties for 15 years under certain conditions. The bill expands the existing program that allows for tax exemptions for new construction.
HB 2395: Authorizing Fees for Condominium Conversions
This bill authorizes a local government to implement a fee to be assessed for the conversion of a multifamily rental property to a condominium. The fee varies depending on the number of units at the property. The fee goes into a fund specifically designed for the creation of affordable housing.
HB 2397: Authorizing Fees for Demolition
This bill is similar to HB 2395 and authorizes a fee to be assessed for the demolition of a structure. The fee varies depending on the number of units in the demolished structure and the fee goes into a fund specifically designed for the creation of affordable housing.
HB 2407: Bans Commercial Rent Control
The bill prevents a local government from imposing rent control on commercial rental properties.
2SHB 1278: Energy Benchmarking and Disclosure
This bill mandates an energy benchmarking requirement similar to the one in existence in Seattle. Property owners would be required to supply energy data using the EPA website. WMFHA opposes this bill.
HB 1824: Long Life Smoke Detectors
This bill requires retailers to only sell “long life smoke detectors” beginning July 1, 2017. These detectors have a lithium battery that the supporters of the bill claim will last 10 years. The bill does not impose any duties on owners or property managers although the language might change. WMFHA is monitoring this bill.
HB 1609 / SB 5846: Creates Exemptions to Plumbing and Electrical Codes
These bills would eliminate the need for using a licensed electrician or plumber for minor repairs or modifications. WMFHA supports these bills.
SB 5185: Creates a 6-Year Timeframe for Substantial Building Code Amendments
The summary of the bill says it all. WMFHA supports this bill.
SSB 5218: Allowing Use of Unlawful Detainer for At-Will Tenancies
Adds a new section to the unlawful detainer statutes (RCW 59.12) and would require a 30-day notice to terminate an at-will tenancy. WMFHA supports this bill.
SSB 5219: Allowing a 3-day Notice to Pay Rent to Include All Fees
This would allow a landlord to include late fees and other fees such as utilities in a 3-day notice to pay rent. The bill has been amended to make clear that a 3-day notice could only be used if rent and other charges were owing. A 3-day could not be used only for other charges. WMFHA supports this bill.
SB 5220: Allowing for Money Judgments Against Tenants After Alternate Service
Modifies existing statute regarding service of eviction lawsuits by posting and mailing. This would allow for a money judgment to be entered if the tenant answers and defends against the lawsuit. WMFHA supports this bill.
HB 1866 / SB 5259: Requires Landlords to Provide Voter Registration Information to Tenants
Creates a new duty for landlords to provide voter registration information to new tenants at time of move-in. WMFHA opposes these bills.
SHB 1929 / SB 5446: Requiring Electric Car Charging Stations
These bills would require local governments to offer incentives to developers and owners of new and existing multifamily properties for installation of charging stations for electric cars. WMFHA is monitoring these bills.
SB 6226: Authorizes International Plumbing Code as Alternative
This bill authorizes the International Plumbing Code as an alternative to the Uniform Plumbing Code.
VANCOUVER: In September 2015, Vancouver adopted several measures in an attempt to deal with a low vacancy rate and affordable housing issues. One new law requires a landlord to give a 45-day notice of any rent increase of 10% or more.
A second law requires a landlord who owns 5 or more rental units to give a 60-day notice of termination to a month-to-month tenant. A third law makes source of income and Section 8 a protected class in the city.
BELLINGHAM: This city adopted a rental registration and inspection law that took effect in in July 2015. Rental properties were required to be registered by September 2015 and the inspection program will begin in 2016.
SEATTLE: The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda workgroup completed its work and the report was issued in June 2015. The City Council has already made changes to the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO). In 2016, the council will discuss and debate several items that would affect landlords. These include make source of income a protected class and whether there should be restrictions imposed on landlords when they are conducting criminal background checks in the screening process. The council also has asked for review of the existing inspection program to see if changes should be made.
WMFHA Political Action Committee
In 2015 our members contributed over $68,000 to the WMFHA PAC. This set a record for annual contributions to the PAC. We deeply appreciate the generosity of our members and these funds will allow us to make significant, meaningful contributions to the 2016 legislative races and to candidates for statewide office including the race for governor. We urge all our members to contribute to the PAC so we can continue to support and endorse candidates who will help rather than hinder us in providing quality rental housing to all Washingtonians.
WMFHA takes pride in representing our members before the state legislature. Our presence is sought and respected by members of both political parties because of the professionalism, knowledge and constructive dialogue we bring to the table.
Many members of our Government Affairs Committee travel to Olympia to testify before lawmakers and meet one-on-one. We thank all of you for your commitment to the industry, your professionalism and being a part of our team.