[Updated] What You Need to Know: Washington’s New Tenant Protections

Tenant Check May 19, 2020


[Updated] What You Need to Know: Washington’s New Tenant Protections

[Update] COVID-19 has changed the lives of many landlords and tenants in 2020. Changes have been made to Seattle Municipal code for these hardships.

Effective May 6th, residential tenants being evicted during the time of the Governor’s eviction moratorium, will be permitted to use COVID-19 as a defense against eviction. This will be permitted through 6 months after the termination of the eviction moratorium.

Effective May 15th, an ordinance relating to the use of eviction records and regulating the use of eviction history in residential housing was enacted. Landlords will be prohibited from considering evictions related to COVID-19 during and after the civil emergency.

On July 28th, changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act will go into effect for the first time since it was enacted in 1973. Below are some of the big changes.

Increasing the Notice Required to Increase Rent 

  • A minimum 60-day notice is now required, regardless of amount. 
  • For rental properties based on HUD Area Median Income levels, the 30-day notice remains. 
  • Rent increases will not become effective until the end of the existing lease agreement.

Increasing the Notice Required to Terminate a Tenancy in Specific Situations

  • It is now required to give tenants 120 days of notice when terminating a rental agreement due to demolition, substantial renovation, or change of use for a property or unit. This refers specifically to multifamily community buildings. 
  • “Substantially renovate” is clarified as follows: extensive structural repair or extensive remodeling of the premises that requires a building, electrical, plumbing or mechanical permit.
  • An amendment is included that exempts Seattle and Tacoma who have previously created a Tenant Relocation Assistance Program.

Reforming Washington’s Eviction Process

The eviction reformation section of this bill is exhaustive and covers the process from beginning to end. Important changes in this bill include the following:

  • The requirement of a 14-day notice and statutory notice provided by the Attorney General, including language requirements, low-cost legal assistance options, and the tenant’s right to an interpreter in court
  • Tenants cannot be responsible for the landlord’s attorney fees if they owe less than two months’ rent or $1,200, whichever is greater.
  • Late fees and other fees, including damages, to be provided with a 10-day notice.
  • Any payments must be applied to rent first.
  • Opportunities provided for a tenant to reinstate their tenancy. 
  • A judgment for late fees is capped at $75.
  • Limits the use of judicial discretion to tenants who have not received three or more notices to Pay or Vacate prior to the underlying notice of the eviction action in the prior 12 months.

Clarifying Terminations by Service Members in Residential Tenancies

  • This bill clarifies the reasons and requirements needed for service members, which include the service member’s spouse and dependents, to terminate a rental agreement. 
  • Service members may terminate a rental agreement when undergoing a “permanent change of station”. 
  • “Permanent change of station” includes the following: transfer to a unit located at another port or duty station, change in the unit’s home port or permanent duty station, call to active duty for a period not less than 90 days, separation, and retirement. 
  • Service members now must provide 20 days of notice with a copy of the official military orders. 
  • A signed letter from a commanding officer is also acceptable if confirming any change in station requiring a move of more than 35 miles from the rental premise.

Redirecting local real estate transfer taxes to support affordable housing and homelessness projects

  • This new law allows local jurisdictions to allocate existing tax revenue to support homelessness and affordable housing. 
  • Under this new law, a local jurisdiction may use Real Estate Excise Taxes II revenue for the planning, acquisition, construction, reconstruction repair, replacement, rehabilitation, or improvement of facilities for persons experiencing homelessness and for affordable housing projects.

Removing city/county breed restrictions

  • This prohibits a city or county from enacting, enforcing, or otherwise applying breed restrictions. 
  • This does not impact the housing provider’s community policies or the possible requirement of a dog to pass the American Kennel Club Good Citizen Test.

More information about the bill can be found on the Washington Multi Family Housing Association