We have had housing problems for years. Housing costs are going up and supply is going down. There are many reasons for that, but many have to do with Democrat policies enacted over the past couple decades. Policies like environmental restrictions on land use, skyrocketing permitting prices, requirements for studies/tests to be completed before building, restrictive zoning laws, restrictions on logging and other parts of the construction industry that supply our building materials, etc. But the policies that the Democrats put into place this year – over the objections of Republicans – will make matters far worse.

The bills I am about to discuss affect landlord/tenant laws. They are an excellent example of what happens when Democrats enact policies they claim will help a group of people, but they end up doing the exact opposite. The two bills will cause a further reduction in housing units available. That means there are fewer homes to rent for any money at all. Since there will be fewer homes to rent, the ones that are available will increase in rent – that is the law of supply and demand. By making it so hard for landlords to own rental units, supposedly to protect renters, these policies end up harming the very people they are supposed to help.

There are two types of landlords. There are large companies that own many housing units, including huge apartment complexes. But there are also a large number of people who purchase one or two homes they rent to community members for a little extra income. Some are supplementing social security or pensions. Some are planning for future retirement income. Many times, it’s the single owner who handles the rental property, from vetting potential residents and filing necessary paperwork to performing maintenance needs. All while, they must adhere to the same rules that our larger rental properties adhere to, many of which outsource most or all of these services. 

There is another way we can categorize landlords. There are some that could be considered “slumlords.” Those are companies or people who do not maintain their properties and charge outrageous prices – they offer little care or empathy for their renters. But the vast majority of landlords do their best to make sure their renters have a decent place to live. The ones who do not care for their renters are only a very small percentage of the owners of rental units.

The Democrats passed two bills this year that have already caused a reduction in the number of rentals available and made it much more difficult for the small landlords to continue in the rental business. Both bills are complex, but they both put a number of additional restrictions on landlords, and we are already seeing the damage. In fact, reports from realtors say that we have a very hot housing market, and the majority of those homes going on the market are former rentals. Landlords are dumping houses left and right.

SB 5160 – http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/Senate/5160-S2.E%20SBR%20FBR%2021.pdf?q=20210603063355

And HB 1236 – http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/House/1236-S.E%20HBR%20PL%2021.pdf?q=20210603064708

SB 5160 keeps the Governor’s eviction moratorium in place until 6 months after the “emergency proclamation” has ended, which will be December of this year. There have been many landlords who have reported that their tenants have continued working but just stopped paying rent because of the moratorium. Others have found that while their renter has refused to pay rent, they somehow found the means to come up with a down payment for another house. All the while, their landlord had to make mortgage payments on the rental without getting the rental income. There have also been many reports of people receiving government money that was supposed to pay bills but went to everything except rent, because there is an eviction moratorium. Many homes have been getting trashed, but the landlord cannot evict. Since the only way a landlord can get a renter out of a house is to sell or to move into it, they have chosen to sell.

SB 5160 did have one provision that would help landlords with lost payments, but the part of the bill that funded the program was vetoed by Governor Inslee. This bill also creates a program that will provide free legal aid for tenants – our tax dollars will be used against landlords, while the landlords will be forced to pay out of their own pockets. Oh – and landlords cannot let prospective landlords know that the renter has failed to pay rent. The new landlord would have no idea about the responsible nature of their prospective tenant. The eviction moratorium and the hardships placed on landlords make it difficult to continue owning a rental home for the small landlords – the huge companies are not in quite as much of a difficult situation, because they can absorb more of a loss. This is a bill that is related to COVID.

HB 1236 is not related to COVID, but instead, makes it extremely difficult to evict a tenant and codifies the rules into law. It is very specific about what can be a cause for eviction, and it requires many days’ notice in most cases. Even if a landlord wants to sell a home, the notice required is 90 days. Then, if the tenant refuses to leave, there is the entire process of eviction which can take months – and the legal fees involved. If a landlord evicts for any reason other than the specific things listed, the landlord is liable to the tenant for economic and noneconomic damages. You can also be liable if your contract includes anything outside of the list. Is it any wonder that the Mom & Pop landlords are getting out of the business?

What does this mean for housing and rentals? We’ve had a housing crisis for a number of years. I talked about some of those reasons above. But now, with all the landlords getting out of the business of renting, the number of affordable rental homes has diminished to the point where people are becoming desperate. Pretty soon, there will be a call for even more programs for low-income housing – again using our tax dollars – so people can find a place where they can afford to live.

Who will suffer the most? As usual, it will be the middle class. They make a fair salary, but not enough to purchase a home yet – or at least not enough for the cost of homes these days. But they make too much for the low-income programs that help with housing. So they are completely out of luck. This is a common consequence of Democrat policies. It raises costs to the point that most people have a tough time affording anything. Then they set up a program to provide dollars to the low-income folks. The wealthy don’t care, and the low-income people are being helped, so it’s everyone else who suffers. This can be seen in housing, child-care, and just about every other industry. Those who are willing to work hard and make a fair living are the ones who will pay the price. It’s why I am a Republican and urge others to vote for Republicans, as well. These policies will continue to make it harder to have a decent life and livelihood. There are never perfect systems in society or life. There are often hardships and unfair situations, and we must always strive to be better. But when we rely on government to fix every possible problem by placing severe regulations on an industry, we make things worse – not better.