House talks housing: tenants and landlords remain divided

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

A package of bills aimed at reforming eviction practices were considered in the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee this week.

House Bills 1453, 1964 and 1462 would provide protection to tenants by granting courts jurisdiction over unlawful detainer proceedings, allowing tenants to pay nonrefundable fees and holding deposits in installments, and extending notice requirements when a landlord’s change in a property’s use would displace tenants.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the homelessness issue and housing “crisis” in Washington need to be addressed this session. A 2017 University of Washington study on evictions found that they disproportionately affect women and people of color.

The bills aim to give more flexibility throughout the rent payment and eviction processes.

“While every part of the state are impacted by this crisis, not all people are impacted equally by it,” said HB 1964 prime sponsor Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Tacoma. “This bill is about equity and protecting the most vulnerable populations in our community.”

The lawmakers heard opposition to the measures from some landlords and property managers, who warned of increased housing instability if regulations push landlords to sell their properties.

Lyle Crews, president of the Pierce County Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers argued that raising rent and issuing evictions are sometimes necessary to maintain a profit as a business. If a building is old and not up to code, he said, those repairs need to be made and paid for by someone.

“I think we have to be careful letting emotions drive this,” said Crews. “Business is going to happen and so we have to give landlords a structure to follow, and at times that’s unfortunately going to be to displace people.”

Tim Thomas, a University of Washington sociology professor and principal investigator on the Washington State Evictions Project, spoke to the nuance of the eviction issue.

According to superior court records, over 130,000 Washingtonians were evicted in the last year, and Thomas believes that it’s a part of broader issues.

“It’s stagnant wages, inadequate welfare, and rising rent that don’t allow people to compete,” said Thomas. “The reason why eviction is so problematic is that it’s reproducing poverty and reinforcing poverty.”

After almost two hours of testimony, Civil Rights and Judiciary chairwoman Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, criticized the polarization of stakeholders in these bills.

“Every year, I think we’re going to have testimony in which more common ground is found on this topic. And every year, I am shocked by the lack thereof, and disappointed. Deeply, deeply, deeply disappointed,” said Jinkins. “I would urge all the people who have testified today to try and find more common ground amongst these but we members can find it ourselves.”

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