HB 2114 Passes the House – Dies in the Senate

Washington landlords can breathe a sigh of relief as the sweeping changes to the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (“RLTA”) included in HB 2114 have died in the Washington Senate. HB 2114 passed a vote in the House of Representatives and was introduced in the Washington Senate. However, as of the date of this post, the bill failed to pass out of committee.

Among other changes, HB 2114 would have restricted a landlord’s ability to increase rent, charge fees, and even provided a per se consumer protection act finding for violations of certain chapters of the RTLA. Although this bill will not be considered, landlords can be sure future proposals of a similar nature will be reintroduced in the future. As such, we believe it is important to examine the proposed legislation so landlords have a better understanding of what future legislation in the landlord-tenant context may bring.

Limitations on Rent and Fee Increases

As proposed, HB 2114 would have prohibited landlords from increasing rent and fees: 1) during the first twelve months after the tenancy begins; and 2) during any 12-month period for amounts greater than seven percent, unless the landlord could make a showing that an exemption applies. If the landlord increased rent and fees combined in violation of these new requirements, tenants would have been afforded generous remedies, including:

  • The ability to terminate the rental agreement at anytime prior to the effective date of the increase by providing the landlord a written notice at least 20 days before terminating the rental agreement;[1]
  • The ability to seek damages equal to three months of any unlawful rent, fees, or other costs charged by the landlord;
  • Recovery of reasonable attorney fees and costs for bringing an action; and
  • The right to raise as a defense to eviction the claim that rent or fees were unlawfully increased in violation of these new requirements.

Unfortunately, many of the revisions to landlord-tenant law over the last several years have greatly increased landlord costs, requiring the increase of rent. As rents rise (due to changes purportedly designed to assist tenants), we can continue to expect proposals limiting rent increases to be proposed in upcoming legislative sessions.

Per Se Washington Consumer Protection Act Violation

HB 2114 would have also created a new section finding that any violation of RCW 59.18.140, RCW 59.18.170, RCW 59.18.200, RCW 59.18.270, or RCW 59.18.650 are deemed an unfair or deceptive act in trade or commerce and an unfair method of competition for the purpose of applying the consumer protection act (“CPA”).

Ordinarily, a plaintiff prosecuting his or her CPA claim must establish five elements to succeed: 1) an unfair or deceptive act or practice; 2) in trade or commerce; 3) which affects the public interest; 4) a showing of an injury to plaintiff or plaintiff’s property; and 5) a causal link between the unfair and deceptive act and the injury. See Hangman Ridge Training Stables, Inc. v. Safeco Title Ins. Co., 105 Wn.2d 778, 785, 719 P.2d 531, 535 (1986).

However, when a per se violation exists, a plaintiff is only required to show 1) the per se violation (i.e., violation of HB 2114 or the other referenced statutes above); 2) injury; and 3) a causal link. Not only is the plaintiff allowed to show only three elements instead of five, but the tenant is afforded generous remedies under the CPA. These remedies include: 1) actual damages; 2) reasonable attorney fees; and, at the discretion of the court, 3) treble damages up to $25,000.00. See RCW 19.86.090. This extreme proposal, which would have caused significant unintended impact in the industry, fortunately did not pass.

Effects of HB 2114

As noted above, HB 2114 did not make it to the Washington Senate. Although HB 2114 failed to pass through Washington Legislature, landlords should take heed of what the future may hold in future bills. Montgomery Purdue’s litigation and eviction attorneys stay up to date on Washington’s ever-changing landlord-tenant laws and are available to assist landlords and/or property owners in need of legal advice regarding Washington’s complicated eviction and property management processes.

[1]   Notably, landlords could not charge fines or fees for the tenant’s early termination under this section.

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