The Tacoma Landlord Fairness Code Initiative

Effective December 8, 2023, Tacoma landlords must consider the “Tenant Bill of Rights,” which Tacoma voters narrowly passed in the fall of 2023.  The new chapter of the Tacoma Municipal Code, known as the Tacoma Landlord Fairness Code Initiative (the “Code”), includes sweeping changes dealing with a variety of landlord-tenant issues in Tacoma.  Although the following list is not exhaustive, the following blog highlights some of these significant changes.

Purpose of the Landlord Fairness Code Initiative

The Tacoma legislature expressly states the purpose of the Code.  The Code is intended to:

  1. Require landlords to comply with tenant protection laws before raising rent or evicting a tenant;
  2. Prohibits unfair or excessive fees;
  3. Requires landlords to provide notice of rent increases and pay relocation assistance when a significant rent increases requires tenants to relocate;
  4. Prohibits certain student/school-year/cold-weather evictions, and evictions based on a tenant’s status as a servicemember, first responder, senior, family member, health care provider, or educator; and
  5. Provides penalties and other enforcement mechanisms for tenants.[1]

Notably, it is a defense to an eviction if a landlord is in violation of the Code.[2]

Advanced Notice of Rent Increases and Relocation Assistance

One major change to landlord-tenant laws is a requirement that a landlord must now provide not one—but two—notices to a tenant when the landlord intends to increase rent.  More specifically, landlords must provide the first notice to tenants between 210 and 180 days before the rent increase is to take effect.  Landlords must then provide a second notice to tenants between 120 and 90 days before the rent increase takes effect.  The Code requires landlords to use the required form established by the City of Tacoma.[3]

In addition to the longer and duplicative notice requirements, if the increase in rent[4] is 5% or more, a tenant may request the landlord provide relocation assistance.  At base, tenant relocation assistance is equal to two months of rent.  However, if the rent increase is over 7.5%, then tenant relocation assistance is equal to two and a half month’s rent.  If the rent increase is over 10%, then tenant relocation assistance is equal to three month’s rent.[5]  Landlords are required to pay relocation assistance (per dwelling unit, not per person) to the tenant within 30 days.  Landlords are required to provide both the request for relocation assistance and payment confirmation to the Landlord-Tenant Coordinator or other city designated official.[6]

If tenants are unable to relocate and remain in the dwelling unit with the increased rent, tenants are required to repay the relocation assistance.  Unaddressed by the Code, presumably, Landlords would be forced to pursue collection action against tenants who accept relocation assistance and fail to relocate.

There are limited exceptions to the relocation assistance requirement.  Landlords are not required to pay rental relocation assistance under the following circumstances: (1) when a landlord and tenant live at the same site and the site is four or fewer dwelling units; (2) when tenants have lived in the dwelling unit for less than six months; and (3) when a landlord temporarily rents out his or her principal place of residence when he or she is absent due to active military service.[7]

Specific Eviction Defenses

The Code provides new student/school-year/cold-weather eviction defenses.  Evictions qualify as a student/school-year eviction if it would require a tenant to vacate their dwelling unit during the school year and the tenant or any resident is (1) a child/student; (2) a person having legal custody of a child or student; or (3) an educator.  Evictions qualify as a cold-weather eviction if it would require the tenant to vacate the dwelling unit between November 1 and April 1.[8] 

A landlord pursuing an eviction due to the owner/family member intending to occupy the unit, condemnation/uninhabitability, when the owner/lessor wants a roommate to vacate, sexual harassment by a tenant, drug-related activity pursuant to Chapter 7.43 RCW, the tenant maintaining an unlawful business pursuant to RCW 59.12.030(5), or the tenant’s conduct has a substantial impact on or constitutes an imminent threat to the health or safety of other tenants or the owner is an exception to the student/school-year/cold weather eviction defenses.

Notably, the Code defines “eviction” or “evict” as “an effort by the landlord to terminate or discontinue the tenancy through any means, including unlawful detainer, refusing to offer a new lease, or seeking a mutual termination agreement.”[9]  Arguably, unless an exception applies, landlords are effectively barred from issuing notices evicting tenants during the school year or during the period between November 1 and April 1.

Miscellaneous Requirements for Landlords

The Code contains multiple miscellaneous provisions of which landlords need to be aware:

  1. All notices, including rental increase notices, must be served pursuant to RCW 59.12.040.[10] 
  2. Similar to Seattle tenants, Tacoma tenants can now rescind mutual termination of tenancy agreements either (1) within ten business days of signing the agreement and delivering the same to the landlord or (2) or by delivering written notice of rescission to the landlord at a later time if the tenant was unrepresented by an attorney, tenant advocate, or outside a proceeding where a third-party mediator was present.[11]
  3. If there are any ambiguities in the Code, all ambiguities are construed in favor of the tenant.[12]

Careful Considerations are Necessary in Pursuing an Eviction

What can we learn from the new Code?  As noted above, a violation of the Code is a defense to an eviction but also includes other monetary penalties.  A tenant claiming a landlord’s violation of the Code may also bring an action in Pierce County Superior Court.  Tenants may request declaratory or injunctive relief, and may seek actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorney fees and expenses.  Landlords must carefully consider under what basis they are proceeding with an unlawful detainer (eviction) action.  Montgomery Purdue’s litigation and eviction attorneys are available to assist landlords and/or property owners with all aspects of the complicated eviction process.

[1] Tacoma Municipal Code (“TMC”) 1.100.010 (Findings).

[2] TMC 1.100.020(5).

[3] TMC 1.100.050(1)–(2)

[4] Tenant relocation assistance is calculated based on the rent in effect at the time of the 180-day notice. ““Rent” means any recurring or periodic payments for the use and occupancy of the dwelling unit, which may include utilities. Rent does not include any non-recurring charges such as late fees, notice fees, attorney’s fees, court costs, damages, or other fees.”  See TMC 1.100.090 (definitions).

[5] TMC 1.100.050(4)–(5).

[6] TMC 1.100.050(6).

[7] TMC 1.100.050(7)–(8).

[8] TMC 1.100.060.

[9] TMC 1.100.090 (Definitions).

[10] TMC 1.100.100(2).

[11] TMC 1.100.100(3).

[12] TMC 1.100.100(5).

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