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Proposal would limit rent increases for city of Spokane landlords who take rental assistance

Breean Beggs, Spokane City Council President, came out of City Hall and spoke to protesters during a small Black Lives Matter protest in front of City Hall on Monday, June 8, 2020, in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Breean Beggs, Spokane City Council President, came out of City Hall and spoke to protesters during a small Black Lives Matter protest in front of City Hall on Monday, June 8, 2020, in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Don’t call it rent control; it’s more of a rent condition.

Landlords who accept rental assistance payments would be prohibited from jacking up the rent under a proposal introduced by Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs on Monday.

For a year after receiving the rental assistance payment, a landlord could not increase the rent by more than the rate of inflation and would need to provide at least 90 days of written notice before doing so.

The proposal would also protect tenants from eviction if a portion of unpaid rent is from March 2020 through July 2021 and they have applied for rental assistance.

“It just prevents them from being evicted while the paperwork is being handled,” Beggs explained.

The proposal was introduced by Beggs on Monday during a meeting of the City Council’s Finance and Administration Committee. Its terms will be critical, given that the city has only distributed a fraction of the $25 million in rental assistance it plans to allocate, according to Beggs.

The ordinance is sure to draw scrutiny from landlords. Beggs said he is meeting with representatives for them later this week.

Steve Corker, president of the LandLord Association of the Inland Northwest, warned the conditions could incentivize landlords to reject rental assistance and instead forgive the rent outright. Then, they would attempt to recover the lost money through future rent increases, subject only to the limits under state law.

Corker described the city’s and state’s approach to tenant protections as “continuing to shoot ourselves in our foot,” and cautioned it discourages the private sector from providing low-income housing.

Councilman Michael Cathcart voiced early concerns that the proposal could limit housing supply.

Under the draft legislation, a landlord who accepts rental assistance could not increase rent more than once per year, regardless of when the past due rent was accrued.

“If they’re accepting government money for rental assistance, it restricts them from raising the rent beyond the (consumer price index) through 2023, when hopefully the pandemic impacts will be over,” Beggs said.

The consumer price index increased by 5.4% over the last year ending in September, according to the U.S. bureau of labor statistics.

The terms of the proposal would not retroactively be applied to landlords who accepted rental assistance during the pandemic.

The draft ordinance is intentionally vague about whether it would apply to a specific housing unit or all of a landlord’s properties within city limits.

“Council would need to decide, and as you might imagine that’s an important point,” Beggs said.

Beggs’ proposal would also prohibit Spokane police officers from carrying out an eviction unless there is an explicit order from the court affirming the eviction.

The proposal is, in part, intended to carry on tenant protections put in place by Gov. Jay Inslee that are set to expire at the end of October. It would prohibit landlords from carrying out an eviction unless there is rental assistance funding available and an eviction resolution program in place.

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