Compliance Alert:  State and Local Landlord-Tenant Legal Updates

Note and Disclaimer:  The below is provided for informational purposes only and shall not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney-client relationship established from your receipt and/or review of this article.  There is no substitute for speaking with an attorney directly.  If you have a legal issue, you should speak with a knowledgeable attorney in your area as soon as possible.

By:  Mack Mayo

May 9, 2023

Recent ordinances passed by the Spokane City Council, bills passed by the Washington State legislature, and landlord-tenant cases decided by various courts will dramatically impact regional landlords.  Any landlord, property manager, or owner engaged in residential real estate leasing will need to perform a comprehensive review of its leases, notices, forms, and practices and policies to ensure compliance with the new rules going into effect in 2024.  Read more below to see how they impact you.

What are the New Spokane Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinances?

In February, 2023, the Spokane City Council enacted two sweeping ordinances:  C-36330 and C-36336.  The former, aimed at local rent registration and enforcement policies, was enacted unanimously.  The latter, geared towards background checks, inspections, habitability, disclosures, and creation of private rights of action for violations, was approved 5-2.  Both will go into effect January 1, 2024.  The below constitutes a summary of the high-level terms.  Contact Paine Hamblen’s Landlord-Tenant Act Practice Group for more information.

            Ordinance 1:  C-36330.

This ordinance will require landlords to annually obtain a business license through the Washington Department of Revenue Business Licensing Service if they rent properties in Spokane.  They will have to pay the standard $130.00 (approx.) business licensing fee.  Landlords must also register annually with the newly created Spokane Rental Registry for a flat fee of approximately $120.00 plus $15.00 per each additional unit being offered for rent in Spokane.  Institutional landlords will also be subject to a graduated personnel license fee.  Five or less personnel is $10.00 person; six to ten personnel is $15.00 per person; and ten or more personnel is $20 per person.  Some fees are waivable in certain circumstances contingent on number of units and low-income housing being offered.  Changes of ownership will require notification and new ownership registration of the units.  The Ordinance will also allow caused-based inspections and imposition of fines for non-compliance with the Landlord’s obligations imposed under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (Chapter 59.18 RCW, et seq.).  (Practice tip:  property management companies are entitled to perform these applications and registrations on behalf of the owners they serve).

            Ordinance 2:  C-36336.

Portable Background Checks Program.  This Ordinance will establish a portable (i.e., reusable) background and credit checks program.  Each report will be good for ninety (90) days and Landlords who accept them pursuant to RCW 59.18.257(1)(iv) cannot charge tenants any additional fee.  (Practice tip:  as drafted, it is ambiguous whether landlords actually must accept these reports.  As drafted, it appears optional).  Landlords can still inquire about criminal, credit, and rental history.

Residential Rental Property Mitigation Program.  Will establish and create a fund to help landlords pay for tenant-caused damages.  Landlords must first exhaust security deposits and then apply for available funds.  We do not have all the rules yet, but we do know priority to the fund will be given to low-income housing operators.

Legal Services and Relocation Program.  Spokane will use registration funds to fund a private lawyer to prosecute housing violations.  The lawyer’s initial year salary will be covered by the registration funds with a stated goal that the lawyer will thereafter be self-supporting through fee-shifting awards under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.  In addition to legal services, the fund will be available to provide immediate relocation assistance to tenants in units in very poor conditions.

Landlord Walkthroughs and Inspections. Before renting any unit, the landlord or its manager must self-inspect to “ensure it meets the requirements of applicable building and housing codes impacting health, safety, and livability.”  Owner must make premises habitable per municipal code and RLTA prior to renting any unit.  The owner, further, must maintain all move-in/move-out inspection records for at least 3 years (post vacate date).  (Practice tip:  the Ordinance dictates that the very act of entering into a rental agreement is considered the landlord’s certification that unit complies with all state, federal, and local laws on habitability  and codes, etc.).

Mandatory Landlord Disclosures. Landlords will be required to disclose any history of mold (including tenant reports), if the property is being listed for sale (within ten days), the identity of any new landlord, and any known history of methamphetamine manufacturing on the premises.

Landlords Cannot Retaliate.  Landlords are prohibited from intimidating any person b/c they’re engaged in activities pertaining to exercising statutory rights or related to political speech or organizing.  Landlords cannot threaten/take adverse action towards an employee for helping tenant exercise fair housing rights under federal, state, local laws.

Creation of Private Right of Action.  The Ordinance also creates a direct, private right of action for individuals (or classes of individuals) injured by violations of the Ordinances.  Landlords found to have caused injuries may face actual compensation awards, $500.00 penalties, injunctive relief, and (discretionary) attorney’s fees and costs.

Are There Any New Laws from the Legislature this Year?

Yes, SB 5197 was enacted into law and is awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature (which is all but guaranteed to be signed).  5197 amends the RLTA by providing technical changes to eviction notice forms and modifying certain eviction processes.  This is intended solely to be a high-level review for your information only.  Please contact one of Paine Hamblen’s Landlord Tenant lawyers for additional information.

The amendment will add a new section that allows for remote attendance at all show cause and contested hearings unless good cause exists for the court to require an in-person hearing.  It also amends post-judgment execution rights of the tenant and landlord in various circumstances – mainly with regard to technical default notices and timelines for execution of writs of restitution. 

The form of 14-Day Pay or Vacate Notices will be amended to remove reference to the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program (more on that below). 

Is the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program and Repayment Plan Requirements Actually Sunsetting?

The Covid-era amendments to the RLTA included the establishment of local jurisdiction eviction resolution (read, “mediation”) programs aimed at resolving rent disputes between landlords and tenants out of court.  This was closely tied to the moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent during the pandemic.  Pursuant to the existing provision of the RLTA, as enacted (RCW 59.18.660), the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program is set to expire naturally on June 30, 2023.

IMPORTANT!  The new 2023 amendments to the RLTA did not change the date of sunset for the ERPP.  Unless a Governor Proclamation or local court order comes into effect between the date of publication of this article and June 30, 2023, the ERPP will no longer be a prerequisite to pay or vacate unlawful detainers.  (Practice tip:  This means upon the expiration of the 14-day Pay or Vacate Notice, Landlords can go right to court – no more waiting for weeks or months on the Dispute Resolution Certificate). 

What Does this Mean for Repayment Plans?  The sunset date, as a practical matter, for the invitation to repayment plans requirement under the RLTA is six months after the end of the federal emergency declaration.  President Biden is slated to end the emergency on May 11, 2023.  This means that, absent future change in rules or ordinances, landlords should not have to serve repayment plan offers with the 14-day notices after November, 2023.  Check back for future updates on that.

Any Updates with the 30-Day Notice Requirements?

Unfortunately, no.  The Sherwood decision, which came down in early December, 2022, from Division One of the Washington Court of Appeals, requires that owners of qualifying properties under the CARES Act serve tenants with 30-Day Notices (not 14-Day or 10-Days) for both rent-based and behavioral-based unlawful detainers.  Qualifying properties, for example, include federally subsidized housing or properties with federally backed mortgage loans. 

Recently, the Washington State Supreme Court refused to accept the case for appeal. Thus, for now, the 30-Day Sherwood notice requirements stand.

Anything Else We Need to be Aware Of?

Proposed New Amendment to the RLTA.  HB 1388 is making the rounds, but it has not passed both houses of the Washington legislature yet.  It proposes to make a violation of the RLTA a “per se” CPA violation, opening up the door for substantial monetary damages, injunctive relief, and awards of attorney’s fees and costs.  This will be a dramatic change in the law and an entire article could be dedicated to this alone.  While the bill is dead for this session, we will continue to monitor the situation and update our clients as information becomes available.  (Practice tip:  Landlords should review their standard leases now to ensure that they have enforceable class action waivers and related dispute resolution procedures.  Paine Hamblen can help with that). 

Reasonable Accommodation Requests.  Recently, Division 3 of the Washington Court of Appeals issued a scathing opinion in Keimle & Hagood Co. v. Daniels, No. 38918-9-III, where a property manager was held liable for refusing to grant concessions to a clearly disabled person who was having difficulty in keeping her apartment clean.  Instead of providing a reasonable accommodation to the elderly disabled tenant, the landlord proceeded with a risky (and unnecessary) behavioral-based eviction.  The entire case is beyond the scope of this article, but here’s the takeaway:  If you have a disabled tenant who asks for a reasonable accommodation, or a tenant who is so clearly disabled who is asking for some type of concession, take it seriously.  Under Daniels and existing law, tenants needn’t use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” to trigger the landlord’s duty to analyze the situation properly and provide accommodations where appropriate.  Failing to satisfy your duties in this context delivers major ramifications.

Contact Us Today for Additional Answers or Guidance.

Paine Hamblen’s lawyers are experienced with this highly nuanced area of law in both the commercial and residential context.  The post-Covid reality facing residential landlords presents an ever-shifting landscape of federal, state, and local laws and regulations.  We advise residential property management companies and landlords concerning application procedures, federal subsidies, insurance issues, security deposit protocols, reasonable accommodation requests, and regulatory.  We work with landlords to evict residential tenants and we defend property managers and landlords facing Fair Housing Act discrimination suits, collective or individual actions under the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, and other tenant claims.  We further assist commercial landlords and property managers with lease drafting, negotiations, and assignments or subletting, as well as handling commercial evictions and litigation.  You may reach them as follows: