Since 1946, the attorneys with Althauser Rayan Abbarno have helped clients navigate complex legal issues involving property, real estate and landlord-tenant issues. The law regulating residential tenancies, the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA), has seen major changes the past several years, but none more impactful than the changes passed by legislature in the 2021 legislative session. Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5160 into law in April, overhauling landlord/tenant law and changing the landscape of renting and evictions; especially when the eviction moratorium expires.
The legislature last amended the Residential Landlord Tenant Act in 2019, which changed the definition of “rent,” gave judges more discretion in denying an eviction based on the failure to pay rent, and increased the time a landlord is required to give a tenant to pay unpaid rent.
The next major change occurred on March 18, 2020, not through law, but when Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-19. The proclamation prohibited evictions and raising rent. Since then, the Governor has extended the moratorium several times, but the current version will expire on June 30, 2021, because of a provision included in Senate Bill 5160.
Need an attorney? Althauser Rayan Abbarno offer consultations in their Centralia and Olympia offices. Call (360) 736-1301 today.
How does Senate Bill 5160 change the current RLTA?
Landlords are limited in what they can tell other people about a tenant’s failure to pay rent. For unpaid rent between March 1, 2020 and six months following the end of the governor’s eviction moratorium, a landlord may not:
- Report to another prospective landlord that a tenant failed to pay rent or was evicted;
- Take any adverse action based on a prospective tenant’s nonpayment of rent;
- Impose any late fees for a tenant’s nonpayment; or
- Deny, discourage application for, or otherwise make unavailable any rental dwelling unit based on a prospective tenant’s medical history.
A landlord can be sued for violating any of these new rules and can be ordered to pay up to two and one half times the monthly rent to the tenant, in addition to attorney fees and court costs.
Repayment Plans and Mediation.
If a tenant failed to pay rent anytime between March 1, 2020, and six months following expiration of the eviction moratorium or the end of the public health emergency, whichever is later, the landlord must offer tenants a reasonable repayment plan to repay that unpaid rent.
Any repayment plan offered by the landlord must:
- Limit payment amounts to the monthly rent, plus up to one third extra to repay unpaid rent;
- Begin no fewer than 30 days following the day the plan was offered;
- Cover only rent;
- Allow for payment from any sources; and
- Repayment conditions may not be conditioned on:
- The tenant’s compliance with the rental agreement or payment of attorney fees, court costs, or other costs related to litigation,
- The tenant’s application or receipt of government assistance, and
- The tenant’s waiver of rights to unlawful detainer notices.
If the tenant fails to accept the terms of a reasonable repayment plan within 14 days of the offer, or the tenant defaults on the repayment plan, the landlord may start the eviction process, but must follow the requirements of the Eviction Resolution Program (ERP).
The ERP, a pilot program started last year, is a mediation program using “Dispute Resolution Centers” (DRC), to help tenants resolve issues related to a troubled tenancy and pay delinquent rent prior to a landlord seeking eviction. Landlords have the duty to provide notice of the program to tenants before suing to evict for non-payment.
If, after the landlord offers a reasonable repayment plan, and the tenant declines, ignores, or defaults on the plan, the parties enter the ERP process through DRC.
Once a landlord and tenant voluntarily enter into the ERP process, a mediation specialist works with both parties to resolve the payment issues. If resolution cannot be achieved, formal mediation will be offered to the landlord and tenant.
The ERP process can be initiated by either the landlord or the tenant, but the landlord has the responsibility of giving the tenant notice of the program. If the tenant initiates mediation, the landlord is obligated to participate in the process.
There are several new notice and form requirements for both the landlord and tenant that can have significant impacts on the unlawful detainer process. And an unlawful detainer can only be filed and granted after the landlord receives a ‘Certificate of Participation’ from a DRC.
Under the bill as it was passed by the Legislature, landlords were able to apply for reimbursement for unpaid rent from the state if the tenant failed to follow a repayment plan. However, the Governor vetoed that provision. Since that is not part of the law, if a tenant fails to abide by a repayment plan, the Landlord’s only option is to sue for eviction or seek assistance from other programs.
During any unlawful detainer proceeding, the court must consider the tenant’s circumstances, including any decreased income or increased expenses due to COVID-19, and the terms of the payment plan offered by the landlord. The landlord’s circumstances are not equally considered. It is a defense to an unlawful detainer action if the landlord did not offer a reasonable repayment plan.
Right to Representation.
SB 5160 gives tenants who are sued for unlawful detainer the right to be represented by an attorney. The tenant, but not the landlord, has a right to a free attorney appointed by the court and paid for by the Office of Civil Legal Aid if they:
- Receive public assistance;
- Have been involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility;
- Have an income of 125 percent or less of the federal poverty level; or
- Have insufficient available funds to retain counsel.
The RLTA has changed substantially under SB 5160 and this article details only some of those changes. It is important to begin planning for this new process because the mistakes are costly for both the landlord and tenant. Our attorneys are following the changes in the law, and continue to monitor the guidance from the Courts, State Agencies, Dispute Resolution Centers, and the State Office of Civil Legal Aid.
For more information or a consultation with the Attorneys at Althauser Rayan Abbarno in Centralia or Olympia, call (360) 736-1301 or visit www.CentraliaLaw.com.
How did House Bill 1236 change the law on lease renewals? Substantially!
Cause Required for Eviction, Refusal to Renew, and Ending a Tenancy.
If a rental agreement provides for the tenancy to continue for an indefinite period after the agreement expires, a landlord may end the tenancy at the end of the initial period without cause if the initial rental term is between six months and one year and the landlord provides the tenant with at least 60 days’ written notice.
When a landlord can evict without cause. . .
When a rental agreement is for a specified period and does not continue for an indefinite period or on a month-to-month basis after the specified period expires, the landlord may end the tenancy without cause only if:
- the initial agreement is for one year or more, or the landlord and tenant have continuously entered into successive rental agreements of six months or more since the inception of the tenancy;
- the landlord provides at least 60 days’ written notice to the tenant before the end of the specified period; and
- the tenancy has not been for an indefinite period on a month-to-month or periodic basis at any point, unless a rental agreement was entered into for a monthly or periodic tenancy between the effective date of this act and three months following the expiration of the Governor’s eviction moratorium.
What is ’cause’?
For all other tenancies of a specified period and for tenancies on a monthly or periodic basis, a landlord may not end the tenancy except for one of the following reasons; however a tenant may end a tenancy for a specified period of time by providing 20-day notice prior to the end of the specified period.
The following reasons constitute cause for a landlord to evict, refuse to continue a tenancy, or end a periodic tenancy:
- failure to pay rent (14-day notice);
- substantial breach of a material program requirement of subsidized housing, material term of rental agreement, or tenant obligation imposed by law that has not been remedied (10-day notice);
- committing or permitting waste or nuisance, unlawful activity that affects the use and enjoyment of the premises, or other substantial or repeated interference with the use and enjoyment of the premises (3-day notice);
- landlord, in good faith, seeks possession so that the owner or his or her immediate family may occupy the unit as the principal residence and no substantially equivalent unit is vacant and available (90-day notice);
- owner elects to sell the premises, a single-family residence (90-day notice);
- premises to be demolished, substantially rehabilitated, or change of use (120-day notice);
- owner elects to withdraw the premises from the rental market to pursue a conversion (120-day notice);
- premises are condemned by a local agency (30-day notice, or less if continued habitation would subject the landlord to criminal or civil penalties);
- service of notice to quit or vacate by the owner or lessor with whom the tenant shares the dwelling unit or access to a common kitchen or bathroom area (20-day notice);
- transitional housing program expires, the tenant ages out of a program, or the tenant has completed a program and is no longer eligible (30-day notice);
- rental agreement has expired, the landlord proffers a new rental agreement at least 30 days prior to the expiration, and the tenant does not sign;
- intentional and knowing misrepresentation or omission of material information on the tenant’s application that, had the misrepresentations or omissions not been made, would have caused the landlord to request additional information or take adverse action (30-day notice);
- other good cause which constitutes a legitimate economic or business reason (60-day notice);
- four or more violations of a substantial breach of a subsidized housing requirement, material term of the lease, or tenant obligation under law that were cured by the tenant within the previous 12-month period and the landlord provided a written notice for each violation (60-day notice);
- required to register as a sex offender during the tenancy, or failed to disclose a requirement to register as a sex offender when required in the rental application or otherwise known to the property owner at the beginning of the tenancy (60-day notice); and
- makes unwanted sexual advances or commits other acts of sexual harassment directed at the property owner, manager, employee, or another tenant based on race, gender, or protected status in violation of a lease term or covenant (20-day notice).
Notices must identify the facts and circumstances known and available to the landlord at the time the notice is issued that support the cause or causes with enough specificity so as to enable the tenant to respond. The landlord may present other evidence regarding the allegations within the notice where the evidence was unknown or unavailable at the time the notice was issued.
Where a tenant permanently vacates for reasons other than the ending of the tenancy by the landlord, and occupants co-resided with the tenant prior to and up to the tenant’s vacation with the landlord’s approval, the landlord must serve a notice to the remaining occupants at least six months before the tenant vacates, requiring the remaining occupants to either apply to become a party to the rental agreement or vacate within 30 days. If the occupant fails to apply within 30 days or the application is denied, the landlord may commence an unlawful detainer action. These new provisions regarding occupants are not applicable to subsidized housing tenancies.
A landlord who removes a tenant or causes a tenant to be removed from a dwelling in violation of the provisions specifying enumerated causes for eviction or refusal to renew or end a tenancy is liable to the tenant for wrongful eviction and the greater of: (1) the tenant’s economic and noneconomic damages; or (2) three times the monthly rent, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. The existing statutory damages available for inclusion in the rental agreement of prohibited provisions are increased from $500 to two times the monthly rent, and the landlord must have “knowingly,” instead of “deliberately,” included such provisions.
More Information on Althauser Rayan Abbarno, LLP in Centralia and Olympia
Locations: 114 West Magnolia St., Centralia and Market Centre, Olympia.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday