Landlord Lobby Spreads Lies in Attempt to Torpedo King County Tenant Rights Bill

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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.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. 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. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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A Landlord

There is a very clear reason to not want to rent to “undocumented immigrants”, they have no accountability, no tangible way to trace them if they cause financial damage to damage to the home. It’s renting to a ghost, no way to check, to trace, outside of the law. No Thank You..

Douglas Trumm

See also: racism.

Laws still apply to undocumented immigrants. I’m not sure where you’re getting your facts.

Last edited 1 month ago by Douglas Trumm
landlord

Racism has nothing to do with it. Rent to people of other cultures, skin tones, and documented foreign nationals all the time and of course laws apply to every person in our country.

However, An undocumented person is just that. Undocumented, currently outside the law and with a flexible unfixed profile of their past behavior. This applies to all races and persons who are residing inside the united states illegally. again how is that racist?
All a potential landlord knows is that this person is already breaking the law and is untraceable if decide to skip town.

Douglas Trumm

Nativism, is you prefer. Undocumented simply refers to not having a legal status of residence, e.g. an active green card. It does not automatically make this person a “ghost” devoid of any ID or credit history. Many folks who are undocumented immigration-wise still have a driver’s license, for example.

landlord

Oh yes a permanent residence card, green card, whatever want to call it. See a person can be here legally without being a citizen either through a several different types of visas or in the process of becoming a citizen which can include a permanent residence card they all get a number similar to a S.S. number. —ALL OF THEM get a identifying number except one.– That can be used in place of a S.S. number.

Trust me I know –many members of my family have gone through the process of becoming citizens.

Undocumented persons, or illegal aliens people who are not legally with permission to stay in this country. They don’t get a number. They are breaking the law, they are unverified and since they are untraceable are not a wise choice for many landlords.

This has nothing to do with “Nativism”.
As simple distinguishing between people who are documented like foriegns who are not citizens, but are here legally, and someone that is undocumented and unverified is not a division of nations. It’s a division of who is properly verified and who is compliance or noncompliance of the law. Who can be traced if they trash your rental home, and past history solidly verified.

ballardite

If creditchecks can be run through “other means” what are the “other means”. I run my credit checks through the Rental Housing Association of WA and if they say they can’t run a credit check without a social security number – they aren’t lying.

Seattleite

I would encourage you to read these articles and check back in with RHA, as they are – at best – misinformed. You can absolutely run a credit check without a social security number:
https://cozy.co/blog/do-landlords-need-to-collect-social-security-numbers/
https://www.novacredit.com/resources/how-to-get-a-credit-score-without-a-social-security-number/