2016 LEGISLATIVE REPORT

2015-16 State Legislative Session - Tim Seth
As the start of the second year of the 2-year session began, a combination of old and new ideas for laws were submitted by both landlord and tenant interests. With the exception of a close call with SB 5894/HB 2897 (new complicated legalize trying to deal with unauthorized occupants ...that failed to pass), only one bill passed and was signed by the Governor...ESB 6413/HB 2811 (portable screening, eviction reporting, and return deadline for deposits). See details below.

STATE SENATE BILLS

PASSED AND SIGNED IN 2016 SESSION:

SB 6413 (HB 2811) - Portable Screening, Eviction Reporting, Refund Deadlines. (
These two companion bills covered three basic and unrelated issues with some introduced several times in pass sessions. In attempt to affect "compromise" from all sides, WLA expressed concerns that the end results of screening portability could do more harm than any realistic good...to both sides. (See WLA letter and bill details inside.)

1) PORTABLE SCREENING:
The first part defines and addresses "comprehensive tenant screening reports" as follow-through to Senator Frockt's earlier bills dealing with tenant screening. When said "qualified" screening reports (that must include a credit report less than 30-days old) are re-submitted by applying tenants via their screening companies to other reviewing landlords, the other landlords may not charge the tenant another screening fee (whether or not the landlord elects to use the report and/or run his own report). Interestingly, the strict definitions of "acceptable" screening reports (brokered by RHA's own screening business interests) excludes competing reports from such well-established local screening companies as Rental Research and WLA.

Appearing to be a possible set-back for both landlords and applicants, WLA officials anticipate that relatively few tenant applicants will take advantage of the potential portability benefits, since such re-submittals could be a red flag that they were: 1) potentially rejected by another party, 2) or they simply ran out of time based upon the short 30-day submittal limits, 3) or they could not work through the complicated and wordy legal portability process, 4) or they risk losing out due to an overly delayed application process (just to save a few screening dollars).

Finally, the new law allows landlords/management companies to be able to declare in their advanced promotions that they choose to not (or will) accept portable screening reports. Again, WLA believes very few portable screening reports will ever be submitted, let alone processed. As such, you may want to avoid complicated red tape (while giving the strugglers a break) by simply accepting any reasonably-looking and timely report without argument...as recommended by WLA staff. 
Worst still, landlords in the field could find themselves in a cross-fire between federal and state mandates, when it comes to credit reports. Making credit reports as part of the requirement (to be an acceptable portable screening report - waiving fees), the implied anointment (credit reports are OK) is contrary to federal HUD policies on three counts:

1) Credit reports have a disparate impact on struggling single mothers and other
protected categories. Mandating that credit reports must be required, will add
more potential barriers to the bottom third of the applicant pool (that otherwise
could prove to be good tenants).
2) Credit reports were designed to predict profitable fee-paying bank customers,
not tenants. (Open a lot of credit cards, maintain running balances to compete
with rent, and get a good credit score! Nothing about lifestyle histories, etc.)
3) Credit reports do not foster HUD's new policy of "Affirmatively Furthering
Fair Housing", as a new extension of their current disparate impact policies.
Final Caution: Screening an applicant pool for the same unit (using difference screening systems) violates earlier long-standing fair housing policies to screen and select under same terms and conditions...pretty much putting the idea of portable screening report options at high violation risk (by screening others for the same unit under a difference screening system/service).

2) EVICTION REPORTING:
The second part deals with earlier tenant lobbying to outright ban screening companies from reporting superior court eviction filings (after when landlords initiate eviction action, usually through an attorney). As an absolute necessity to be able to review tenant case histories, listing of unlawful detainer filings on court records has proven to be essential to landlords. They not only have a responsibility to conduct a fair-housing approach in choosing the most qualified, they carry additional burdens to rent to proven responsible people that will be good neighbors to others.

As a defense last session, WLA developed and submitted what is now called "The Eviction Steps"... WaLandlord.com. The net affect showed that many steps and notices (including enlisting attorneys and paying lots of money) take place before an eviction filing takes place. With thus, WLA was successful in severely revising the idea to again allow the continuation of listing eviction filings on screening reports. As compromise, the bill's final outcome allows innocent parties of unlawful actions to be able to petition the courts to remove their names from the case files. (A good resolution for all!)

3) DEPOSIT REFUND DEADLINE:
Pushed by officials of the Seattle-based Multi-Family Housing Association, they were successful in adding a provision that extended the deposit return deadline from 14 days to 21 days (before the mandatory provision kicks in that requires return of full deposit if deadline is missed). The idea was for MFHA's huge apartment complex clients to have more time to process complicated deposit-return scenarios.

Since prompt return of deposit money is a high-priority sore-point with tenants, WLA normally recommends that members return such within 7 to 10 days to avoid harassing calls and complaints. Since even the best vendor estimates are not fixed, it would be rare to need more time (which current law provides). In any event WLA is recommending that landlords apply the 21-day period as an exception; not as the general rule. If you are using WLA rental forms that specify deposit return within 14 days, and you miss by a couple of days, you no longer have to return the full deposit!
Passed both House and Senate...Signed by the Governor.

OTHER BILLS NOT PASSED THIS SESSION:

SB 5894 (See HB 2897) - Trespassing Occupants - Failed to Pass.

SB 6441 - Increasing the 20-day notice to terminate to 30 days (60 days if tenancy is for more than 2 years). Applied equally to both landlords and tenants (including applicable military), this bill would prove to be more difficult for both sides, including tenants anxious to snap up new options in our tightening markets.
The consequences would be more landlord shifting to leases unrealistically binding both sides to unworkable long contract periods. Failed to Pass

SB 6461 - Mobile Home Parks. Modifying who is eligible for relocation assistance for tenants of closed or converted mobile home parks. Failed to Pass

SB 6546 (HB 2901) - Mobile Home Parks. Clarifies actual utility costs a landlord can charge under the Mfg/MH Act. Failed to Pass.

SB 6592 - Rent Increases. Allows local jurisdictions to enact the requirement of annual total rent increase exceeding 5% of existing rent, be limited to 90-day notices. More silly... not really helping tenants while tempting landlords to otherwise raise extra high rents ("because it is now in the law to do so"). Failed to Pass

STATE HOUSE BILLS 

HB 1565 - Concerns the preservation of housing options for participates in government assistance programs. Failed to Pass

HB 2407 - Bans local rental controls for commercial properties. Limited to commercial and public ownership properties, forbids local governments from adopting any rent control regulations over said properties in their jurisdictions.
Failed to Pass

HB 2813 - Mobile Home Rental Agreements. Concerns the revising of rental agreement terms and conditions under the Mfg/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act.
Failed to Pass

HB 2897 - New proposed tough language allowing landlords to remove unauthorized occupants quicker than simply a 20-day notice (by designating such scenarios as a criminal trespass in the first degree). A promising idea, but the over-legal detailing and conditions may so overwhelm the frustrated landlords, that they may simply choose to use the 20-day notice route. WLA proposes, instead, a 3-day notice option to those without a written lease or agreement with the owner (rather than adding more "criminals" to the severely over-kill criminal justice system). Ad such notice to the existing 3-day waste/nuisance law. Failed to Pass

HB 2946 - Mobile Home Housing. Requires a 5-year minimum notice on closures or conversions of mobile home parks and mfg communities. Failed to Pass.



Copies of these bills are available from the Washington State
Legislative Information Center: PO Box 450600, Olympia WA
98504-0600, phone 360-786-7573, web site: www.leg.wa.gov
Also call in your legislative concerns on the leg hot line: 1-800-562-6000

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