Washington governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that overhauls the eviction process and gives tenants greater opportunity to pay their landlords what they owe without being forced to move. Most notably, the bill (SB 5600) extends the three day pay-or-vacate period to 14 days and gives judges greater discretion to help people stay in their homes in cases where tenants are behind on their rent.  

“Fourteen days can make the difference in staying sheltered,” said Sarah Nagy, staff attorney at Columbia Legal Services. “This essential bill gives low-income tenants the time to receive another paycheck, to access local services that can cover a one-time deficiency in rent, or, if necessary, to seek other housing.”

Two out of every five households in Washington rent their homes. Over half of those renters spend at least a third of their monthly income on housing. As median rent continues to rise faster than median income, renters become more vulnerable to losing their housing when they face a one-time emergency, with little time to find affordable housing that meets their families’ needs.  

Before passage of SB 5600, judicial officers had almost no ability to consider a tenant’s circumstances or ability to pay before ordering their eviction. Inflexible eviction laws allow a one-time crisis to affect a tenant’s rental record for years, a major force driving tenants into housing instability and homelessness.  

With the passage of the bill, judges now have the ability to consider tenants’ circumstances when an eviction is for nonpayment of rent, and to allow tenants to remain in their homes while they pay back what they owe through a court-ordered payment plan.

Tenants who are not burdened by the costs of moving have a better shot at regaining stability and more income to put toward paying back their landlords. An unlawful detainer suit comes with a large price tag, often adding $1,000 or more to a judgment that a tenant must pay in court to stop the eviction process. To this end, SB 5600 prevents tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of any charges besides rent-meaning that tenants who are able to pay their back rent cannot be evicted simply because they are unable to pay their landlord’s court costs and attorney’s fees.  

“A low-income family shouldn’t be put at risk of homelessness because they can’t pay attorney’s fees,”added Nagy.  

While these changes will have an enormous impact on tenants in Washington, SB 5600 underwent significant revisions through negotiations during the legislative session. Columbia Legal Services advocated for language that ultimately did not make it into the bill that would have required landlords to provide specific documentation of repairs before withholding a tenant’s security deposit. Other efforts that were unsuccessful this session were bills that would have prevented landlords from terminating tenancies without good cause. CLS will continue to work in the 2020 session to pass legislation that benefits tenants and brings greater equity to the landlord-tenant relationship.  

SB 5600 was sponsored by Senator Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), and the House version was sponsored by Representative Nicole Macri (D-Seattle). Both worked tirelessly throughout the legislative session to keep both bills moving and guarantee that there would be a vehicle for tenants’ rights on the Governor’s desk. 

Sarah Nagy, CLS Attorney
360-943-6260 Ext. 223,  sarah.nagy@columbialegal.org

Antonio Ginatta, CLS Policy Director
360-943-6260 Ext. 202, antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org

Charlie McAteer, CLS Communications
917-696-1321, charlie.mcateer@columbialegal.org