MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Legislature considers rent increase cap, but don’t call it ‘rent control’

Jan 12, 2024, 6:32 AM | Updated: Feb 13, 2024, 6:31 pm

Photo: The State of Washington's Capitol Building in Olympia....

The State of Washington's Capitol Building in Olympia. (Photo courtesy of the Washington State Government)

(Photo courtesy of the Washington State Government)

State lawmakers in Olympia heard emotional testimony Thursday, delivered in front of a packed committee hearing room regarding capping rent increases to 5% annually.

House Bill 2114 would also put limits on late fee increases and provide other tenant safeguards.

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“This legislation is not rent control,” the bill’s sponsor, Representative Emily Alvarado (D-Seattle), told members of the House Housing Committee. “Under this bill, rent increases are capped at 5% every 12 months,” Alvarado said. “But when a person voluntarily vacates a unit, the landlord is able to reset the rent.”

The state legislature banned rent control in 1981, but that hasn’t stopped attempts since then to put some sort of cap on raising rates, calling such legislation ‘rent stabilization.’

A similar measure stalled during the 2023 session and never made it to a floor vote of either the House or Senate.

“Landlords told us that last year’s bill was complicated, combining the banking of rent and pegging to CPI (Consumer Price Index), saying it was hard to track and it was not predictable,” Alvarado told the committee. “That’s why we have a flat 5% cap in this legislation. We also heard that it was important to continue to exempt new construction.”

Under the new bill, landlords with new dwelling units under 10 years old are exempt from the cap. Mike Parker of Bellingham, who calls himself a mom-and-pop landlord, supported the legislation.

“I know that a 5% cap on rent increase is more than fair,” he told the committee.

Zack Brandon, a senior fellow at the Jack Kemp Foundation in Washington D.C., stated that a study he conducted found a 5% cap on rent increases in the state would reduce new housing construction by 5%. He said it would reduce maintenance spending on existing housing by 3%, reduce the total value of housing by $1.4 to $1.7 billion, and reduce total property tax revenue in the state by about $20 million.

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“Economists in general don’t like these things because most of the benefits go to people who are middle or upper class,” Brandon said.

Monica Susweta rents a two-bedroom duplex in Vancouver for $1,895 a month and could not afford a 10% rent increase, but said 5% would be manageable.

“I am a human being, not a $ sign who wants to thrive just like you do. We want housing security like all of you have,” she told the committee. “I’m sad and scared, and I’m asking for help.”

The House Committee on Housing will vote on the bill on Jan. 16 at 4 p.m.

Key Provisions of the Legislation

Rent and Fee Increase Limit

Under the new legislation, landlords are now restricted from increasing rent and fees for tenants covered by the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) or the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act (MHLTA) by more than 5 percent in any 12-month period. For the initial 12 months of a tenancy, any increase is prohibited.

Exemptions

Certain exemptions exist, such as newly constructed dwelling units under the RLTA and eligible organizations under the MHLTA. Additionally, public and nonprofit organizations complying with regulatory agreements are exempt from the limit.

Notice Requirements

Landlords are now mandated to provide written notice of rent and fee increases in a specific format. If an exemption is claimed, supporting facts must be included in the notice, which must be served according to eviction notice procedures.

Tenant Lease Termination

Tenants have the right to terminate rental agreements before the effective date of a 3% or more rent increase by providing written notice. The legislation ensures fair treatment, with tenants owing pro-rata rent until vacating and landlords prohibited from charging fines or fees for termination.

Other Tenant Protection Provisions

The legislation includes several additional tenant protections, such as limits on combined move-in fees and security deposits, a cap on late fees at $10 per month, and prohibitions against discriminatory terms in rental agreements.

Remedies and Enforcement

Landlords violating these provisions will face substantial consequences, including damages, mandatory payments, and attorney fees. The Attorney General is authorized to enforce these regulations under the Consumer Protection Act, with local governments also having the option to adopt policies for enforcement.

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Landlord Resource Center

To further assist landlords, the Department of Commerce will create an online resource center to distribute information about available programs and resources, including a landlord mitigation program and model lease provisions.

Model Lease Provisions

The AG will publish model lease provisions in the top 10 languages spoken in Washington to ensure accessibility and understanding. These provisions will be available digitally and in hard copy upon request.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Legislature considers rent increase cap, but don’t call it ‘rent control’