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King County Council passes new limits on evictions, rental fees

UPDATED: Wed., June 30, 2021

By Heidi Groover Seattle Times

Renters in unincorporated King County soon will have new protections against certain evictions, fees and rent hikes.

The Metropolitan King County Council on Tuesday passed a package of rental regulations supporters say will help protect tenants who are on the edge of losing housing during the pandemic and beyond.

The regulations, which passed on a 6-3 vote, will require landlords to offer one of about a dozen “just causes” to evict a tenant or end their lease. Those causes include failure to pay rent or comply with lease terms, criminal activity and instances when a landlord wants to sell or move into the property.

About 25,000 households living in unincorporated areas could be covered by the new rules, said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a sponsor of the legislation.

The vote follows passage this spring of similar state regulations, although those rules allow for more exceptions.

Landlords and several members of the council opposed the ordinance, arguing the rules could add costs and confusion for property owners, particularly small landlords.

Councilmembers Kathy Lambert, Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voted no.

Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, who co-sponsored the legislation, said the protections will support “all of the essential workers we have correctly lauded during the pandemic.”

“The people who continue to struggle in this economy – they need housing stability and that’s what this is going to provide them,” Zahilay said.

The new rules will also limit move-in fees and deposits to one month’s rent and cap late fees for unpaid rent at 1.5%.

If a landlord opts to increase rent by more than 3%, they must offer tenants at least 120 days’ notice. When they plan to evict or not renew a tenants’ lease, landlords must provide at least 30 days notice.

Dunn, who opposed the ordinance, proposed exempting small landlords with four or fewer units. New regulations could incentivize them to sell in today’s hot housing market, he said, and the exemption could “help keep them in business.”

A majority of other council members rejected Dunn’s proposal, arguing tenants should have the same protections regardless of the size of their landlord’s business.

“Over the past year and a half, King County has committed nearly $200 million in rental assistance to prevent evictions,” Dunn said in a statement Monday before the vote, “but this new approach of shifting that burden onto ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords is fraught with unintended consequences.”

Under the new legislation, landlords in unincorporated King County can request but no longer require tenants to provide their Social Security number during the screening process.

That rule is meant to protect people who are undocumented and may not have a Social Security number. Landlords argue credit checks without Social Security numbers are less accurate.

Property owners could still deny tenants based on “inaccurate, unfavorable or unavailable” information found during the screening process.

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