In November the good people of Federal Way overwhelmingly supported the Stable Homes ballot initiative, which established the strongest evictions protections in the state of Washington. The initiative essentially requires landlords to give a "good cause" for evicting someone, set rules for what those good causes could be, and levies substantial penalties against landlords who don't follow those rules. Before this initiative passed, landlords could evict people with 20 days notice for no reason.
Now, a month later, the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a lobbying group representing landlords, has filed a lawsuit against the city in King County Superior Court claiming the initiative is "unconstitutional."
RHA argues the initiative doesn't express a single subject in its title, illegally addresses "administrative matters as opposed to legislative matters," violates sections of the Washington Residential Landlord Tenant Act, constitutes an "illegal taking" of property, is "unduly oppressive" to landlords, and "substantially impairs" their contracts with existing tenants.
Erin Fenner of Washington CAN, the grassroots group that ran the Stable Homes initiative, says the organization expected the suit and is "confident" the law will hold up in court. "Not only is it legally sound policy, it's also democratically supported," she added, noting that that the bill passed by ten points.
The landlords haven't filed an injunction (yet), so the law is still in effect.
Last month the RHA also sued Burien over the "just cause" legislation the city passed back in October. The new ordinance ends no-cause evictions and allows tenants to pay move-in fees and security deposits in installments. In this case, RHA similarly claims that the law violates the state's ban on rent control, constitutes an illegal taking, unduly oppresses landlords, messes up current contracts with tenants, and violates a landlord's free speech because, well, let's just say that when the framers were writing the First Amendment, preventing local governments from making landlords notify the city within 60 days of their intent to sell affordable housing was top-of-mind.
While these lawsuits are annoying and potentially worrisome, the RHA doesn't have a great track record on their recent efforts to squash tenant protections in court. Last month the Washington State Supreme Court upheld Seattle's 2016 "First in Time" law, which forces landlords to accept the first qualified applicant for a rental unit, and in the process overturned many of the precedents that landlords could cite to make their cases. The RHA also sued Seattle in 2016 over a law requiring landlords to offer payment plans for move-in fees. They lost that case in King County Superior Court last year.