Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, and Rod Dembowski will go to bat for landlords at todays council meeting.
Reagan Dunn, Kathy Lambert, and Rod Dembowski will go to bat for landlords at today's council meeting. King County

This afternoon the King County Council will consider a suite of tenant protections to shore up some of the good (but watery) legislation state lawmakers passed earlier this year. Liberals hold a comfortable majority on the council, so the legislation stands a good chance of passing.

However! The council's three Republicans often pair up with a couple of the liberals to weaken strong progressive legislation, and that's exactly the kind of thing you might expect to see at today's 1 pm meeting, especially when you consider a couple of things:

• Two liberals on the council—Joe McDermott and Rod Dembowski—are landlords.

• When council members voted the bill out of committee last week, Dembowski joined the Republicans in voting against a good striker offered by the bill’s sponsors.

• Republican Councilmembers Kathy Lambert and Reagan Dunn are having an absolute conniption about this whole fucking thing, as Republicans almost always do. In a press release yesterday afternoon, Dunn said he planned to amend the bill to exempt "housing providers who own four units or fewer," which is dumb for reasons we'll get into later. Meanwhile, Lambert wants to offer legal services for landlords trying to evict tenants, which is batshit for reasons we've already discussed.

But before we address the ways Republicans and liberals might team up to screw renters, let me first run down some highlights from the baseline bill and tell you why it's useful.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Girmay Zahilay, and Dave Upthegrove, would institute the following changes:

• Requires landlords to give one of several "just" reasons for evicting a tenant or refusing to renew a lease. The county's version of the just cause list include's all of the state's reasons and adds "knowingly allowing a vicious animal" among them, but it closes the state's arcane fixed-term loopholes.

• Requires landlords to give 30 days' written notice before evicting or refusing to renew a lease "unless a longer notice period is required by state law."

• Offers public defenders to tenants facing eviction.

• Caps late fees at 1.5% of monthly rent.

• Caps move-in fees at one month's rent and allows tenants to pay in installments.

• Allows a landlord to "request, but not require" social security numbers from tenants, which will help prevent housing discrimination levied against undocumented immigrants.

• Requires landlords "to give 3 to 4 months' notice for rent increases greater than 3%." so a tenant has enough time to find another place to live.

• Allows tenants to sue landlords for breaking the law and establishes damages at "3 times monthly rent or double damages, plus costs and attorneys' fees."

For the 25,000 renters who live in unincorporated King County, passing this bill would help right the balance of power between people who invest in housing and people who need to live in housing. Those tenants represent about 22% of the households in unincorporated areas, though in neighborhoods such as Skyway renters make up about 42% of the households. The protections would also prevent homelessness and make finding an apartment in this godforsaken market a little bit more manageable.

And though Gov. Jay Inslee extended state limits on evictions until Sept. 30, tenant advocates say the new (and currently still unreleased) language of that proclamation will be much weaker. With a little less than 200,000 Washingtonians collectively owing $1 billion in back rent, according to the latest Housing Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, we still might see a wave of evictions in the middle of a homelessness crisis come fall, especially if rent relief continues to lag across the state.

The bill would also serve as a good model for other cities in the county to adopt, though similar legislation in Seattle, Federal Way, and Auburn would serve just as well.

That last point, of course, represents one of the main reasons why the Rental Housing Association has fought against the bill so hard, and why conservatives and a liberal landlord on the council also oppose it and will try to weaken it.

Which brings us back to Dunn. In his press release, Dunn said he plans to offer an amendment to exempt from this legislation "housing providers who own four units or fewer." Though Republicans always try to propose this amendment, neither the state's, nor Burien's, nor Auburn's, nor Federal Ways' just cause legislation exempt "small landlords" for a lot of good reasons.

"Housing providers" who own four or fewer units make up most of the rental housing in the state, which would leave out many tenants who deserve these protections. Though some landlords who only own one or two properties do keep rents low and do bend over backwards to work with tenants to avoid evictions, some do not! And a roof over one's head simply should not totally rely on the caprice of a landlord.

Enforcing a "small landlord" exemption would also be difficult, given the fact that "large landlords" like BlackRock buy single-family homes for rent, and some can hold properties under LLCs. Dunn's proposed amendment creates a giant loophole these big ol' landlords could drive a truck through.

Expect lawmakers to float this bad idea plus many others at what's sure to be a mild to severely infuriating council meeting today at 1 pm. You can watch the whole thing live if you have found some way to work while listening to Lambert advance her theory about the number of "indigent" landlords in desperate need of public defenders.