On Tuesday Jim Henderson of LandlordSolutions, Inc., a company that helps landlords evict people, delivered a slideshow presentation to the King County chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers. The presentation aimed to update the roomful of landlords on recent reforms to Washington's racist and retrograde eviction laws, and also offer some "tips" and "loop holes [sic]" they might exploit in order to continue evicting tenants at their current pace.
Henderson's advice isn't too tricky. On a slide entitled "Tips," he suggests landlords serve pay-or-vacate notices on the 2nd of the month, serve comply-or-vacate notices (presumably instead of pay-or-vacate notices), apply for a Washington state vendor ID number, and serve 20-day eviction notices outside Tacoma and Seattle.
That last suggestion is the most interesting. To get around the fact that landlords must now give tenants 14 days to respond to an eviction notice, Henderson advises landlords to serve 20-day eviction notices instead. Landlords don't have to give a reason for serving these kinds of evictions, which is why they're also called "no cause" evictions. If you get served one of these, you must be out in 20 days no matter what. There is no legal recourse for you to stay housed.
Seattle and Tacoma have recently passed different ordinances that give tenants more protections in these cases. In Seattle, a landlord has to give month-to-month tenants a "just cause" for evicting them. (Loophole: If you're on a 12-month lease, landlords can choose not to renew it for any reason. They don't have to give you a "just cause." Councilmember Lisa Herbold is trying to pass a resolution to talk about changing that.) In Tacoma, landlords have to give tenants 60 days notice if they want to evict for no reason.
Edmund Witter, managing attorney with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, thinks the plan to start serving 20-day notices more often might backfire. "If they do that, they’re going to make the case for just cause legislation statewide. When just cause happens, landlords will jack up the rent. Then they’ll essentially be making the case for rent control. Every time they exploit some loophole, there could be some concerns for them," he said.
The suggestion for landlords to serve "comply-or-vacate" notices instead of "pay-or-vacate" notices is also somewhat interesting. Landlords give tenants "comply-or-vacate" notices to evict them for breaking one of the conditions on the lease. But in order to evict someone for that, the landlord would have to prove in court that the tenant actually violated one of those conditions, rather than just sort of suspect that the tenant is doing a bunch of drugs in the apartment or whatever. Witter wouldn't mind this move. "It’s not a bad thing if landlords have to be forced to be more honest," he said. "If they have to bring that behavior case, they should bring it as a behavior case instead of trying to use this passive-aggressive workaround" of serving a 14-day eviction notice for a failure to pay.
Henderson's other "tips" also seem benign. It's unclear how serving an eviction on the 2nd of the month would help landlords get around the new eviction laws. And applying for a state vendor ID number is just the first step landlords must complete in order to get money from the newly expanded landlord mitigation program. Henderson hasn't yet responded to a request for comment, but I'll update if I hear back.
On another slide, Henderson lists some ways landlord lobbyists might try to water down Councilmember Kshama Sawant's proposals to introduce rent control and an Economic Evictions Assistance Ordinance, which would give financial assistance to renters who need to move due to a rent increase of at least 10%. But right now there's a statewide ban on rent control, so there's not much use in worrying about their suggestions of only capping rents on older buildings and allowing landlords to raise the rents after tenants move out of rent-controlled units.
The galling thing about this presentation is that during the testy and protracted debate over instituting modest eviction reforms, many landlords framed their opposition as genuine concern for small "mom-and-pop" landlords who needed the rent on time in order to pay for their prescription medications. But it's clear that's not their primary concern. "This legislation has not even gone into effect, and the only thing they’re concerned about is how they’re going to evict people," Witter said.