By Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Protecting tenant rights through increasing the length of eviction proceedings is part of eviction-reform legislation, currently in the state House of Representatives.
The House Committee on Civil Rights and Judiciary heard public testimony March 19 on Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5600.
The bill would extend from three to 14 days the time a tenant has to comply with a notice to pay rent or vacate before unlawful detainer action. This notice means that tenants must vacate the property or pay the back rent if they do not want eviction proceeds on their record.
The measure also authorizes judicial discretion in unlawful detainer proceedings. Landlords would be allowed, under certain circumstances, to seek payment from the Landlord Mitigation Program Account, which is an account held by the Department of Commerce that tenants payback over time, for an unpaid judgment of over $500.
Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, is the prime sponsor of the bill and the chair of the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee. Kuderer testified in support of the bill and noted the continued work being done with stakeholders to perfect the bill.
“It was interesting because what jumped out at us is that right out of the gate the leading cause of homelessness was evictions. Eviction for nonpayment of rent in particular,” Kuderer said.
The change of notification time from three days to 14 days was the major point of contention throughout the public testimony.
“What the data showed us is that Washington was an outlier at three days and that it was inhumane to give someone a notice and three days later expect them to pack up all their worldly possessions and find another place to live,” Kuderer said.
In a study done by the Housing Stability and Affordability Committee, 26 other states have longer periods of time than Washington’s current three days. Some states allow as long as 30 days. Kuderer said she settled on two weeks because it would allow tenants to receive an additional paycheck during that time. The bill represents a “hard-earned compromise” for Kuderer.
John Gipson is a 63-year-old landlord who has eight rental properties and utilizes his rentals as his sole source of income. He testified in opposition of the bill, citing the change of notice time.
“The three-day notice is only the first step in the eviction process. Now I hope you all realize that. For me we have only done a few evictions, but it takes at least 30 days from what I have been able to determine in my experience,” Gipson said. “It costs me about a $1,000 or more for the attorney fees plus the vacant property for the 30 days rent.”
These changes will ultimately hurt tenants because they increase landlords’ costs, which will cause rents to rise over time, said Gipson.
Doug Nethart has been a landlord for about 40 years. He testified against the bill, saying he opposes the 14-day change. He currently gives his tenants a five-day grace period, so the earliest he would hand out a three-day notice is on the 7th of any given month, said Nethart. Nethart feels that extending this process isn’t a problem, but a reduction from 14-day period to a seven-day or eight-day period would reduce the elimination of a grace period for current landlords.
Soap Lake Mayor Raymond Gravelle is a Realtor. He said he doesn’t know of any action that could be taken locally to change these requirements.
“Tenants have too many rights as it is,” said Gravelle. “It’s a hardship for landlords to evict tenants, and it shouldn’t be.”
Edmund Witter from the King County Bar Association, which has been a part of the stakeholder process, testified in support of the bill.
“The overall net effect of the bill is to add 11 days to the eviction process. It’s just 11 days,” Witter said. “We know this is not unprecedented as we have spoken about before. We did ask Dr. Tim Thomas from UW to look in to the effect that 14 days would have on the housing stock in states that have passed it, and he couldn’t find any absorbable effect whatsoever.”
A date is not yet scheduled for the House Committee on Civil Rights and Judiciary to take executive action on this bill.