The King County Council's proposed Just Cause eviction ordinance seeks to provide new protections in unincorporated King County. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Landlords came out in force at the King County Council meeting on Tuesday to speak against a proposed tenant rights bill. Unfortunately, their cause was hurt by many of their own talking points being blatantly false. Several County Councilmembers chastised the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHA) for spreading misinformation about the bill proposed by Councilmembers Girmay Zahilay and Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

“Landlord associations like @RHAofWA have been spreading so much misinformation about our just cause eviction ordinance that public comment today is full of people arguing against things that don’t exist. This is beyond shameful,” Councilmember Zahilay tweeted, amplifying comments he made in the meeting (video here).

County Councilmember Joe McDermott noted he is a landlord, an RHA member, and read from the RHA email distributed to members last Friday, noting several falsehoods, such as the mistaken idea that background checks would be banned. He expressed disappointment that the RHA was cheapening the dialogue and resorting to underhanded tactics. Some proponents also noted that most of the landlords seem to own property in Seattle and other incorporated cities rather than conducting their business in unincorporated King County where the County Council legislation would actually apply.

County Councilmember Kathy Lambert (a Republican representing the 3rd District) complained that the bill was moving too fast and fretted over a legal brief and the prospect of appeals. Zahilay countered that it had been proposed since March and that tenants are running out of time with the statewide eviction moratorium set to expire June 30th. March is also when the Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition (of which The Urbanist is a member) launched a campaign to push the legislation. Yet here we sit in mid-June.

Less than two weeks from the expiration, Governor Jay Inslee continued to waffle and said this week he hasn’t decided on an extension, despite pleas from tenants and service providers. Kenmore became the first city to issue an eviction moratorium through the end of September, followed by Kirkland, and then Seattle via an executive order today from Mayor Jenny Durkan. Bellevue and Burien are considering extensions next week. The King County Council would be wise to add an eviction moratorium to their legislation since the Governor has been so indecisive.

Lambert has a number of striker amendments and dubious proposals, such as one providing landlords with public defenders too “for equity” sake. Lambert’s machinations have been a big reason why the bill has been slowed and coming up against the June 30th deadline for tenants.

Still Councilmembers are optimistic they can pass the bill before the end of the month. They plan to work through amendments at a Committee of the Whole meeting at 1pm on Wednesday, June 23rd and then attempt to pass the legislation at a special meeting on Tuesday, June 29th.

“State law doesn’t currently include just cause provisions for most tenancies, and while a bill is moving through the state legislature to add requirements to the books, that proposal falls well short of the King County proposal,” a King County Council press release from March noted.

Other protections include:

  • A cap on move-in, security, and other fees and deposits, and allow incremental payment;
  • A requirement for landlords to give up to four months’ notice for significant rent increases;
  • A prohibition on rent hikes in unsafe or unlivable housing;
  • An allowance for tenants to adjust rent due date if they live on a fixed income;
  • Added protections against eviction over late rent; and
  • A prohibition on landlords from requesting Social Security Numbers for pre-rental screening.

The Social Security Number provision was intended to prevent discrimination against tenants who lack such identification, such as undocumented immigrants. Councilmember McDermott and others noted that they had met with landlords to answer questions and explain their legislative intent on provisions like that one. Credit and background checks can still be run through other means, but those efforts don’t appear to have stopped the rumor mill or overpowered RHA’s deceptive messaging to the contrary. Housing Justice Project extensively debunked RHA’s claims both in public comments at the meeting and in a social media thread after the fact.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Reagan Dunn (another Republican from the Southeast) went on a tangent about whether landlords would be somehow barred from reporting the theoretical sex crimes of their tenants. Staff and colleagues assured him that landlords could still report crimes if they so choose and violating lease terms or criminal activity would still be grounds for an eviction.

“If landlords treat their tenants fairly and communicate why they are evicting, they should be fine,” Councilmember Kohl-Welles said during the meeting, hoping to placate the worked up landlords.

With Zahilay, Kohl-Welles, and Upthegrove signed onto the bill and McDermott and Dembowski sounding supportive during the meeting, the prospects of the bill still seem fairy good. Nevertheless, it would definitely be wise to reach out to your King County Councilmembers by emailing them in support of the legislation and in opposition to Lambert’s amendments since the landlord lobby have been making so much noise and the bill could still be watered down considerably.

The Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition is hosting a virtual rally at 6:30pm on Tuesday, June 22nd in support of the legislation.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.