MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Wash. House passes bill that limits rent increases to 7% annually

Feb 13, 2024, 7:08 PM

Image: A pedestrian walks by a "for rent" sign posted in front of an apartment building on June 2, ...

A pedestrian walks by a "for rent" sign posted in front of an apartment building on June 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

(Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

The Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill on a near-party-line vote that limits rent increases statewide to 7% annually just minutes before a legislative deadline would have passed.

There are other elements to the bill that include longer notification periods for a rent increase, no increases during the first rental year, and a cap on late fees.

It’s a monumental decision by any legislative body to venture into the gray area of what is rent control and what is not.

The state has had a prohibition on rent control since 1981. Landlords have had the flexibility to raise rents by any amount they want as many renters have been priced out of housing near their school or work.

Supporters of House Bill 2114 (HB 2114) don’t call it rent control; rather, they call it rent stabilization instead. (A PDF of the substitute bill can be viewed here.)

The bill was facing a potential legislative death Tuesday. Senate and House lawmakers had to pass any bill that originated in their chamber by 5 p.m. Otherwise, they would be considered dead.

More from Matt Markovich: Pilot program to provide free rent to low-income residents could cost the state $251M

The pressure was on Democrats who control the House because a companion bill, SB 5961, failed to clear the Senate Housing Committee.

If the House did not take action on HB 2114 Tuesday, the only way to keep it alive would have been to take a vote of the House to allow the bill to be brought straight to the floor.

The final vote was 53-43 with one member excused. The bill will head to the Senate.

Previous debate on HB 2114

State lawmakers heard emotional testimony last month, delivered in front of a packed committee hearing room regarding a previous version of HB 2114 which capped rent increases to 5% annually.

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

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

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 in January. “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 at the time.

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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