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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council to vote on scaled-back bid to protect tenants from eviction if they’ve applied for rental aid

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)

A proposed Spokane city law aims to protect tenants who have at least applied for rental assistance.

The law would prohibit landlords from ousting a tenant for unpaid rent – as long as that tenant has met a number of conditions.

The goal of the ordinance, which is set for a vote on Monday, is to prevent the eviction of tenants who are waiting on a rental assistance check. The law would not protect tenants who face eviction for reasons other than unpaid rent, such as posing a health and safety risk or damaging property.

The protections would expire at the end of 2022.

Council President Breean Beggs introduced the bill last year and was met with swift resistance from landlords.

After hearing that feedback, Beggs made changes and stripped limits on rent increases for landlords who accept rental assistance from the city. Landlords warned last year that such a requirement would dissuade them from accepting rental assistance. Instead, landlords argued, they could forgive the unpaid rent and then jack up future rent to make up for the loss.

The new legislation would only slightly bolster the tenant protections embedded in state law by the legislature last year, according to Beggs. It also looks to cover a protection that evaporated when Gov. Jay Inslee allowed the moratorium on evictions to fully expire on Oct. 31.

The new city law would embed many of the same protections under state law into the terms of its rental assistance program.

“The vast majority of the ordinance simply incorporates state law into our rental assistance program,” Beggs explained.

For example, under state law, landlords are required to offer tenants a reasonable repayment plan, which is defined as no more than one-third of the monthly rent payment at the time the rent was missed.

The new city law would protect tenants waiting on rental assistance, but they would be responsible for notifying landlords that they have at least applied for help.

“The landlord doesn’t have to go search and find out” if a tenant has applied before starting the eviction process, Beggs explained.

Beggs stressed that the proposal essentially asks nothing of landlords, and that the city’s rental assistance program does not force them to take any less than the full amount of money owed in back rent.

Steve Corker, president of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, said he would support the bill if it is limited to the protections outlined by Beggs. But Corker is worried the actual text of the legislation is broader than Beggs describes.

The bill “has many of the same conditions” as the previous iteration, Corker said.

The bill is proposed as an emergency ordinance, meaning it would require five of seven council members to support it.