TACOMA, Wash. — A new rental ordinance that’s aimed to primarily protect renters in Tacoma will go into effect Friday, however, the city says it can’t enforce it.
Landlord fairness code initiative:
The new ordinance is called the 2023 Landlord Fairness Code Initiative, also known as Measure 1, which was passed by the City of Tacoma during the November 2023 general election.
It applies to anyone who owns, operates, or rents residential rental property within the City of Tacoma. The new ordinance includes eight new requirements and rules for landlords and tenants in Tacoma, including the following:
Two separate notices are required before increasing rent:
· 1st notice to increase rent must be issued between 210 and 180 days before the rent increase takes effect
· 2nd notice to increase rent must be issued between 120 and 90 days before rent increase takes effect
· The fee for late rent cannot exceed $10 per month
· The total fee for all move-in costs cannot exceed one month’s rent
Pet damage deposit:
· The deposit cannot exceed 25% of first month’s rent, and it must be refundable if no pet damage is done to the unit
Certain evictions are prohibited:
· Landlords may not carry out an eviction during the student/school year if kids or educators are in the household
· Landlords may not carry out an eviction during cold weather – between November 1 and April 1
· Landlords cannot evict a tenant based on their status as a member of the military, first responder, senior, family member, health care provider or educator
Economic displacement relocation assistance:
· If the tenant’s rent is raised 5% or more and the tenant can no longer afford to occupy the unit, the landlord is required to pay relocation assistance in the following amounts:
· If rent increases 5% to 7% -- 2 times the monthly rent
· If rent increases 7.5% to 10% -- 2.5 times the monthly rent
· If rent increases more than 10% -- 3 times the monthly rent
Landlords are required to comply with health/safety laws
· A landlord must have no violations under TMC 2.01.050 “Minimum Buildings and Structures Code,” or violations under RCW 59.18.060, which may make the unit uninhabitable
Enforcement and penalties:
· Landlords who violate this chapter can be liable for penalties of not less than $500 and up to five times the monthly rent of the dwelling unit at issue, per violation
· A tenant can sue the landlord for violations
· A tenant or organization can sue for injunctive relief
· A landlord can seek a court order to be exempted from provisions, and allow eviction, if they can show they would experience “an undue and significant hardship” if the code were enforced
A spokesperson for the City of Tacoma told KIRO 7 News that the new initiative does not contain verbiage that would allow the city to enforce it, however, tenants and landlords can take action within the legal system.
She also said the new initiative will not replace the Rental Housing Code, which the City enforces, however, there are two areas of conflict between both regulations, including:
· Late fees – the Landlord Fairness Code caps late fees at $10 versus a cap of $75 in the Rental Housing Code
· Rental increase notices – the Landlord Fairness Code requires two notices to increase rent starting at 210 days versus the Rental Housing Code’s one notice at 120 days
The new initiative cannot be amended for another two years – when people will vote again, the spokesperson added.
KIRO 7 News spoke with Jim Henderson, a landlord in Tacoma, about the new initiative.
“I’m concerned,” he shared. “I’m concerned that of what it’s going to do with to our already fragile housing market. We already know we have a supply issue, and I think this initiative doesn’t do anything to increase housing availability or housing stability.”
Henderson said that he and many other landlords fear many tenants will take advantage of the new restrictions, even if they have money to pay for rent.
“I think it sends the wrong message to residents that they don’t have to pay rent during the months of those bans.” He added, “I have real concern that in fear that we’re going to have a repeat of the moratorium where residents didn’t pay rent. "
He said the initiative is primarily focused on helping tenants – not landlords.
As the cost of living continues to rise, Henderson said many landlords will continue to struggle to keep up with the higher expenses, which could lead to property owners leaving the industry and fewer options for tenants.
“Costs have increased. Maintenance cost, insurance, property taxes. Those costs have gone up and rents are barely keeping up with what those costs are,” he said.
He said he believes this could further impact the current housing crisis.
“We will lose housing choices and communities for rental housing,” he added. “We’re going to reduce the supply, in particular, of single-family homes in the market, therefore reducing choices.”
Dawn Smith, a tenant in Tacoma, told KIRO 7 News that she believes the initiative is “really good.”
Smith, who has been living in an apartment in Tacoma for three years, said the cost of living continues to affect many renters, including herself.
“The rents are just so high. Even though minimum wage is mostly $15 an hour, you cannot afford an apartment that cost you $1,200 a month on $15 an hour. I mean you can’t. You can’t live like that,” she shared.
She said the new initiative could also help limit the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city, especially during the colder months.
“People can die out here if they don’t have a place to stay inside,” she said.
She understands landlords have the right to earn money, she added, however, not at the cost of someone’s livelihood.
“Once you lose your place of living, you typically won’t be able to go to work. It’s this horrible vicious cycle,” she added.
Without the City’s enforcement, tenants will have a much more difficult time to exercise their rights, Smith said.
“If you can’t afford your rent, you probably can’t afford to take them (landlord) to court,” she explained.
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