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Tacoma’s renter rights’ measure is in effect, but the city won’t enforce it

Dec 12, 2023, 6:30 AM | Updated: 7:15 am

measure 1 tacoma rent...

A "For rent" sign is displayed outside of a vacant retail space. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images)

(Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images)

A new law aimed at protecting renters’ rights took effect in Tacoma Friday, but the city won’t be enforcing it. Instead, affected parties will need to rely on the court system.

The ordinance is called the 2023 Landlord Fairness Code Initiative (LCFI), also known as Measure 1 or Tacoma’s Tenant Bill of Rights. City of Tacoma voters narrowly approved the measure during the November 2023 election. It passed by just 370 votes, with 50.4% of voters in favor of passing the bill while 49.6% voted against it. Over 43,000 people registered their votes on the issue.

More on Measure 1: Tacoma’s ‘Tenant Bill of Rights’ wins by fewer than 400 votes

“These are the most progressive tenants rights in the entire state. And we have them right here, right now in Tacoma,” Ann Dorn, a spokesperson with Tacoma for All told KIRO Newsradio.” I am so thrilled for all of the people who will be protected.”

What’s in the landlord initiative

As KIRO 7 notes, the new ordinance includes eight new requirements and rules for landlords and tenants in Tacoma. Two separate notices will now be required before increasing rent, with the first notice having to be issued between 210 and 180 days before the rent increase, and the second notice between 120 and 90 days. Also, late fees cannot exceed $10 per month and move-in costs can’t exceed one month’s rent.

Landlords will also have severe limitations on when they can pursue an eviction from their property. They may not carry out an eviction during the school year if kids or educators are in the household. Landlords also can’t carry out an eviction during cold weather – between November 1 and April 1 — and cannot evict a tenant based on their status as a member of the military, first responder, senior, family member, health care provider or educator.

“The landlords have a right to make money obviously, but not to the point where it’s costing somebody their livelihood or their life,” Dawn Smith, a resident and tenant in Tacoma, told KIRO 7.

If a tenant can no longer afford their rent after rent was raised 5% or more and the tenant can no longer afford to occupy the unit, the landlord would have to pay relocation assistance in the following amounts: a 5% to 7% increase would equal two times the monthly rent; a 7.5% to 10% increase would equal 2.5 times; and any increases more than 10% would equal three times the monthly rent.

The city won’t enforce it, but that may be a benefit

The City of Tacoma won’t be enforcing the new rules, but Dorn of Tacoma for All says that is typical with tenant law.

“That’s not new. That’s been part of civil courts for a very long time,” Dorn, who is also the co-chair of Tacoma-Pierce County chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, said to KIRO Newsradio. “The tenant, under some circumstances, does have to bring a case against their landlord.”

Dorn also said that taking their cases to court often is faster than dealing with cities with scarce resources.

“Often, the relief you can find by going to court is much quicker than relying on the city to enforce,” Dorn told KIRO Newsradio. “The fact that tenants can go go court and can seek relief, it puts them in the drivers seat.”

The vast majority of cases brought on by issues related to the LFCI will likely be brought to Superior Court and most of them likely would settle or be dismissed, Beverly Allen, an attorney who has been practicing law for 13 years in Washington and provides conflict counsel for the Housing Justice Project, told the Tacoma News Tribune this week. Allen said because the LFCI lays out the law clearly, she expects many landlord-tenant issues to be resolved without going to court.

Dorn, who also is a paralegal, told the Tacoma outlet, eviction cases must brought to Superior Court, and those cases could take between two and six months to be resolved.

Renters can take advantage of court fee waivers and, in an effort to avoid involving lawyers, small claims court to cut costs.

A tenant and landlord speak out

“(There’s) real concern and fear that we’re going to have a repeat of the moratorium where residents didn’t pay rent,” Jim Henderson, a landlord in Tacoma, said to KIRO 7 in protest against the measure.

Landlords could face penalties of $500 or more and up to five times the monthly rent of the dwelling unit at issue, per violation under this new measure. Tenants can also sue their landlord for violations. But city officials said the terms in the new law don’t allow them to enforce it and any tenant disputes will have to be decided in court.

More from Tacoma: Tacoma becomes first Wash. city to ban declawing cats

“I’m concerned,” Henderson told KIRO 7. “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.”

“The rents are just so high,” Smith, the tenant in Tacoma, countered. while speaking to KIRO 7. “Even though minimum wage is mostly $15 an hour, you cannot afford an apartment that costs you $1,200 a month on $15 an hour. I mean you can’t. You can’t live like that.”

Contributing: Steve Coogan; Kelly Bleyer and Lisa Brooks, KIRO Newsradio; KIRO 7

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