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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council will consider requiring 4 to 6 months’ notice before landlords can raise rent by much

Landlords in Spokane will have to warn tenants 120 or 180 days in advance before raising rents if an ordinance proposed Monday is passed on April 29 by the City Council.

Washington doesn’t have rent control, but state law has required a minimum of 60-day notices for rent increases since 2019. If the ordinance is approved, Spokane landlords would have to issue 120-day notices before raising rent on a unit by 3% or less, or 180-day notices if increasing rent by more than 3%.

Subsidized rentals that base rent prices on the income of the tenant or household are only required to provide notice of rent increases 30 days in advance, in alignment with state law.

Rents have increased in Spokane County faster than in the state as a whole in the last decade, jumping 74% from 2013 to 2023 compared to 66% statewide, according to data from the University of Washington. Quick rent increases also predate the COVID-19 pandemic – Spokane’s average rent increased more than 3% annually for six of the last 10 years, with increases topping 13% in 2016, over 15% in 2021 and more than 23% in 2022.

Rent in Spokane has increased more than twice as fast since 2016 as other forms of inflation hitting consumers, said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista.

“We have been underbuilding single-family homes, on top of a lot of people moving into the area starting in 2014, 2015,” Forsyth said. “For a lot of people, the best option has been renting.”

Tenants in Spokane facing those steep rent increases need more than 60 days to be able to prepare to pay or move somewhere more affordable, argue ordinance sponsors council members Paul Dillon, Zack Zappone and Lili Navarette, as well as tenant advocacy groups.

“Sixty days is not enough time when tenants receive huge rent increases,” said Terri Anderson, interim executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State and director of that organization’s Spokane office.

“Tenants will move when they can’t afford the rent increase, even when there’s nowhere to move to,” she added.

Some groups representing the interests of property owners and landlords sharply oppose the ordinance, including the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest and the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association. In a letter to Mayor Lisa Brown and council members Monday, Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association President Matt Walsh and Legislative Committee Chair Clayton McFarland argued that the longer notices would pose “significant operational and economic challenges” that would harm the local real estate market and scare away investors.

“We are very concerned that this ordinance takes away landlord’s rights and abilities to manage their property in a manner that is best for the property and the tenant,” wrote Walsh and McFarland. “Extending the notice period severely limits the ability of property owners and managers to respond promptly to the fluctuating dynamics of the real estate market.”

Rather than increase rent, landlords could increase other fees instead in order to circumvent the law, such as parking fees, pet fees or other administrative fees, Walsh and McFarland wrote. Increasing the regulation of the rental market also could drive away new investors buying existing real estate, which could also slow down the development of new apartments, he continued.

In addition, because the ordinance would restrict a landlord’s ability to be flexible in the face of changing economic conditions, they may simply opt to give tenants larger rent increases to mitigate their risks, Walsh and McFarland argued.

Dillon argued that organizations like the Spokane Building Owners and Managers Association and the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest are pretending that they haven’t charged skyrocketing rents in the last decade and are now “playing politics with people’s lives.”

“The sky is not going to fall,” Dillon said. “I’ve seen a lot of that in a way that seems like a scare tactic. I think it’s important to look at the facts and to support working people in the city.”

Spokane would not be the first city in Washington to implement a longer rent increase notice. Seattle requires a 180-day notice for a rent increase of any size, while Tacoma has a similar law.

The city law would not take effect until June 1, 2024, and would only apply to leases signed after that point. The ordinance makes no explicit mention of rental situations not actively governed by a lease, such as month-to-month agreements, though Dillon believed the new law still would be in effect in those circumstances.

If approved, the ordinance would allow tenants to break their lease agreement, as well as sue if landlords violate the new law.

There is at least one silver lining for renters in the data: rents in Spokane have recently started stabilizing, likely influenced by increased vacancy rates.

The largest spikes in rental costs in the last decade have happened when fewer units are available for rent, pressuring tenants with few options to pay more for what is available. Only around 1.6% of units were available to new renters in 2016, when rents shot up by more than 13%. Between 2019 and 2021, vacancy rates ranged from 0.8-1.8%, followed by the sharpest rent increases in the last decade and an emergency declaration by then-Mayor Nadine Woodward.

Vacancy rates have since rebounded, accompanied by a cooling in rent increases. Rents increased 1.2% in Spokane County and 1.3% statewide between the end of 2022 and the end of 2023.