This is why we can't have King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert doing things like chairing the county's housing committee.
During a particularly tedious and weird meeting of her committee yesterday morning, Lambert proposed several bad changes to a package of tenant protections she's finally getting around to considering.
One of those bad changes included a provision to add "landlords as a recipient of Public Defense services, when funds are available." Because the original legislation allows the county to provide Public Defenders for people looking down the barrel of an eviction, Lambert "wanted it to be fair that both sides could get legal help, again so there was a balance of equity," she explained.
The language of the proposed change is a little vague, but if the idea here is to get the Public Defender to bring eviction cases on behalf of landlords, then it's absurd on its face. Apparently this does not go without saying, but the Public Defender is not a prosecutor's office.
More broadly, the argument that the county should subsidize legal expenses to make people homeless for the sake of "equity" only shows how little Lambert understands that term. In eviction proceedings, landlords stand to lose some money on a business investment, whereas a tenant stands to lose the roof over their head. Offering the tenant legal services helps balance the power difference, whereas offering landlords those services would restore the imbalance.
An eviction lawyer in Seattle will typically run you about $400. That's not a high expense for someone who passively extracts income as the property they own rapidly appreciates in value, but it is for those who can't make the rent.
And, lo and behold, nearly all landlords seem perfectly able to swing that expense. A recent University of Washington study showed that 90% of landlords hire lawyers in eviction proceedings, while only 10% of tenants could pony up the cash.
Her proposal likely won't make it through negotiations with King County Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Girmay Zahilay, who've offered their own set of changes to the bill. But the fact that we have to waste time and good money entertaining this nonsense at all is galling.
In a few weeks Governor Inslee may lift the state eviction moratorium, rendering thousands of Washingtonians vulnerable to losing their homes. While the state and a few Puget Sound cities have already acted to pass some of the basic tenant protections included in the bill to prevent a wave of evictions, the county is playing catch-up.
The legislation requires landlords to give tenants on month-to-month and fixed-term leases a "just" reason for kicking them out or for not renewing a lease. If passed, the county would also limit move-in fees/security deposits to one month's rent and allow tenants to pay all that on a payment plan. Other measures contained within the bill give tenants "3-4 months" notice before rent hikes larger than 3% and prevent landlords from requiring social security numbers (to prevent discrimination against the undocumented).
The state Legislature passed a watered-down version of "just-cause" legislation earlier this year, but it didn't pass the rest of those proposals, and the county's current version of the "just-cause" legislation provides stronger protections for renters on fixed-term leases.
The renters living outside cities in King County, where these laws would apply, would benefit from those stronger protections. According to the Housing Justice Project, people living in unincorporated areas faced higher rates of "no-cause" evictions than anywhere else in the county. Though only about 7% of evictions take place in these jurisdictions, nearly 20% of "no-cause" evictions happened there. Moreover, "12.6% of evictions in Unincorporated King County were without cause, compared to just 4.4% of all evictions county-wide."
In order to get the bill signed before the moratorium lifts, the committee voted to pass it over to the full council without recommendation after the non-Lambert members explained that her schedule for getting the bill passed was cutting it way too close. The council will consider the legislation next Tuesday, and it should work out okay.
But the fact that the council has to waste time batting away frivolous proposals and explaining how urgent the pending eviction crisis may be serves as a good reminder that Lambert is up for reelection this year. She'll face two fine challengers in Sarah Perry and Joe Cohen, who the SECB will interview tomorrow. Stay tuned for more on that race.