The Spokane City Council will delay voting on a set of proposed tenant protections until at least March.
Amid outcry from landlords, the council balked Monday on new laws that would force landlords to pay for tenant relocation when they substantially increase the rent, and cite a specific reason for an eviction.
The laws had been set to go to a vote on Dec. 9, but the council voted Monday afternoon to delay the vote until March 1.
Councilman Breean Beggs said the additional time will allow for another meeting to solicit input from landlords and tenants. Although there have been four public forums on the topic, Beggs said there were people who didn’t attend who have now come forward with specific proposals.
“It still, to me, is an emergency,” Beggs said of the housing situation in Spokane, but he added that it was worth it to wait.
Although there has long been talk of increasing regulations, landlords quickly organized in opposition to the proposals shortly after they were placed on the council’s agenda.
Landlords warned that increasing fees and regulations would have unintended consequences on the city’s already tight housing market and negatively impact the very people – low-income tenants – they are meant to protect.
“We are willing to sit down with a group of people to really try to deal with some specifics that will address the problem of low-income housing,” said Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest.
The laws’ proponents have said they are a necessary form of protection for the vulnerable against rapidly increasing rents and low vacancy rates in Spokane.
The proposals on the council’s docket were dense and broad, but broken into two main parts.
One law would have forced landlords to pay $2,000 to any tenant who becomes cost-burdened – meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent – after a monthly rent increase of 5% or more.
The law would have also limited pet deposits on tenants, forced landlords to pay a $10 annual registration fee on every apartment they own, fined landlords $10,000 for retaliation or discrimination against a tenant, and required 90 days’ notice before a rent increase.
A second law would have required landlords to cite one of seven specific causes for a tenant’s eviction: failure to pay rent under the terms of the lease; failure to meet the duties of a tenant under state law; to allow a family member of the landlord to occupy the unit; to make renovations that will make the space temporarily uninhabitable; to “perform substantial rehabilitation work” on a unit; to take the unit off the market entirely; or to demolish the unit.
Councilwoman Kate Burke was the only vote against the motion to delay the vote on Monday. She wondered why landlords “have so much space” and influence in the debate on tenant protections.
Council President Ben Stuckart, who will no longer be on the council in March, implored the council to take action and protect tenants.
“The market is clearly not working,” Stuckart said.
Corker had been advocating for a delay for the past week, he said.
“We’re willing to spend the time to come up with something, around the first of March, that will really target the causes, not so much the symptoms,” Corker said.
But landlords decry the possibility of two standards – one for Spokane and one for everywhere around it. They say that would discourage investment in new housing in the city, where it’s desperately needed.
Landlords also argue that the proposal was a sweeping and burdensome approach, instead of specifically targeting a handful of bad property owners in Spokane.
Corker wants incentives for landlords, like low-interest loans to fund property renovations, to be a part of a future legislative package.
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