King County Council to consider renter-rights proposal for unincorporated areas

Announced today:

A transformative tenant protections package has been officially introduced by two King County Councilmembers. The measure, headlined by capped move-in fees and new ‘just cause’ eviction criteria, was officially put forward today by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Girmay Zahilay.

While King County residents look ahead to a brighter, post-pandemic future, many will continue to live in fear of losing their housing – or struggling to get housing at all.

The proposal, referred to the Community, Health and Housing Services Committee on Tuesday, aims to add a series of protections for both month-to-month and longer-term lease tenants.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout have exacerbated our already difficult housing crisis — putting large numbers of renters on the brink of eviction,” Kohl-Welles said. “For many of our neighbors, it’s a thin line between having a roof overhead and spending the night in a shelter or in a tent on one of our sidewalks. And for many, it’s having to decide to pay for rent or pay for needed medical care. We know that housing is essential to stability for King County residents. By enhancing protections for renters, we can work on the front end to prevent even more people from entering homelessness.”

Key among the protections included is the establishment of “just causes” that must be satisfied before a landlord can terminate a month-to-month tenancy, begin eviction proceedings, or fail to renew a fixed-term tenancy. 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.

“After decades of gentrification and a full year of COVID-19 hyper-charging regional housing instability, people are struggling to stay housed. We have to come together and give tenants the housing security needed to survive this crisis,” Zahilay said. “Evictions, especially those inflicted without specific cause or reasonable notice, will exacerbate our homelessness crisis, crime, and public health issues. The legislation introduced today by Councilmember Kohl-Welles and I will be a difference maker for those already struggling.”

In addition to adding the just cause requirement – a significant factor in avoiding a wave of individuals and families losing their housing once temporary protections triggered by the COVID -19 pandemic end – the proposal would add a series of protections for tenants in unincorporated King County, including:

Cap move-in, security and other fees and deposits and allow incremental payment
Require landlords to give up to 4 months’ notice for significant rent increases
Prohibit rent hikes in unsafe or unlivable housing
Allow tenants to adjust rent due date if they live on fixed income
Add protections against eviction over late rent
Prohibit landlords from requesting Social Security number for pre-rental screening
Landlords who violate any of the new protections would be liable for damages in court.

“King County’s homelessness crisis is already one of the worst in the nation. We know that most people who are evicted end up homeless, many of them sleeping unsheltered,” said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “This ordinance is a common-sense measure that will help to protect tenants from arbitrary evictions when the moratoriums are lifted, so that many more people don’t fall into homelessness.”

In 2019, while unincorporated King County saw more no-cause evictions than any other jurisdiction in King County, according to data shared by Edmund Witter, senior managing attorney with the King County Bar Association. While only 6.8% of all evictions were filed in unincorporated King County, that part of the county made up 20% of all no-cause evictions countywide.

An estimated 22% of households in unincorporated King County are renters, which means about 25,000 households would be impacted by the proposal.

As part of the new legislation, the Executive would set up a central phone number for tenants to report suspected violations and would have to create an outreach plan to educate residents about the new protections. A one-pager with more details is attached.

The legislation would take effect 90 days after full council approval.

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