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Seattle’s biggest tech companies are throwing their weight behind legislation that would reform how landlords in Washington state handle evictions.

The general counsels of Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, RealNetworks, and other Seattle-area tech companies sent a letter Tuesday to the Washington legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee supporting Senate Bill 5600 and its companion House Bill 1453. The legislation would require landlords to give tenants more time to pay rent or vacate their homes. Currently, tenants can be told to pay or be evicted within three days. The bills would extend that period to 14 days. They would also require landlords to provide 60 days notice before increasing rent, as opposed to 30 days.

“Simply stated, Washington’s eviction laws are a root cause of our homelessness problems, and we can take a significant step toward addressing them now – at minimal cost to taxpayers – by simply updating them in some common sense ways this legislative session,” says the letter, a copy of which was obtained by GeekWire.

The Seattle region is experiencing a homelessness crisis, driven by rapidly increasing housing costs associated with job growth in tech. The tech industry has started to be more vocal about mitigating the crisis. Last month, Microsoft announced a $500 million fund to accelerate the development of affordable housing in the area.

In addition to backing the legislation, the companies also supported an amendment that would prevent courts from automatically requiring tenants to pay attorney’s fees or court costs for rental disputes.

“They exacerbate our current crisis by creating incentives to evict tenants for small amounts of money and by layering even more debt on tenants trying to catch up on their rent,” the letter says.

Last September, the Seattle Women’s Commission and Housing Justice Project of the King County Bar Association published a report that found women and people of color are far more likely to be evicted in the Seattle area, in many cases for failing to pay nominal portions of their rent. Of the more than 1,200 eviction cases studied, most families became homeless. About 37 percent were completely unsheltered, 25 percent moved into a shelter or transitional housing, and 25 percent staid with family or friends. Only 12.5 percent found another permanent home to move into after being evicted.

Continue reading for the full text of the letter.

February 5, 2019

The Honorable Governor Inslee

The Honorable Washington State Senate and Washington House of Representatives

P.O. Box 40500

Olympia, WA 98504

RE: Support SB 5600 / HB 1453

Dear Governor Inslee, State Senators, and State Representatives,

As General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers of some of Washington’s most significant private employers, we speak with one voice in urging the legislature to take a substantial and low-cost step towards addressing our housing crisis by passing the eviction reforms contained in SB 5600 / HB 1453.

We are all well aware of the housing challenges facing our region, and the companies we work for are all engaged in various forms of public and private efforts to work with our communities to confront those challenges.  But even apart from our work in developing more affordable housing and ameliorating homelessness, we need to prevent struggling families from becoming homeless in the first place.

Evictions are a leading cause of homelessness in Washington.  Unfortunately, Washington’s laws governing evictions are woefully outdated and make it extremely difficult for struggling families to keep their homes.

According to a recent study of 1,218 evictions from 2017 by the King County Bar Association and Seattle Women’s Commission:

  • Nearly 90% of evictions were for nonpayment of rent – and the majority of those occurred for one month or less in rent nonpayment;
  • 7% of tenants in eviction proceedings were people of color, twice what would be expected based on WA demographics;
  • Legal fees and court costs routinely assessed on tenants have devastating consequences for those who fall behind on rent; in one case, a tenant was forced to pay $3,400.00 in legal fees and court costs after falling behind $600.00 in back rent.

As recently as last month, we’ve seen troubling reports of landlords pursuing evictions while a tenant was in the hospital or over trivial amounts of money – as small as $2.00.

Perhaps most damning, Washington’s eviction laws lag far behind other large cities in needlessly forcing tenants out of their homes.  According to the same study, “a Bronx [legal assistance] program found it was able to prevent eviction in 86% of cases in which the program was involved.  Similarly, a Boston pilot program found that tenants with counsel retained their homes two-thirds of the time. . . .  In comparison, the low number of tenants who were able to remain in their housing in Seattle (23.4%) despite procuring counsel suggests there are additional obstacles for tenants to be able to maintain housing, including a lack of available resources and legal protections for tenants.”

Simply stated, Washington’s eviction laws are a root cause of our homelessness problems, and we can take a significant step toward addressing them now – at minimal cost to taxpayers – by simply updating them in some common sense ways this legislative session.  For these reasons, we believe it is crucial for the legislature to quickly pass SB 5600 / HB 1453.

We also support an amendment to these bills that would prevent courts from automatically shifting attorney’s fees or court costs to tenants in actions for nonpayment of rent. While these costs are routinely imposed in Washington, they are rarely awarded in other states.  Yet they exacerbate our current crisis by creating incentives to evict tenants for small amounts of money and by layering even more debt on tenants trying to catch up on their rent.

Our communities are more robust when everybody has a stable home. We want families to be able to live in Washington without fear of losing their homes because of one medical emergency, temporary unemployment, or other hardship. Yet our state’s housing crisis has hit low-income families the hardest, driving out families who have lived in their homes for years. This legislation would restore some balance and fairness to our legal system without burdening landlords.

While there is no one policy solution to this complex and devastating housing crisis, we are heartened to see lawmakers introducing legislation that would have immediate positive impact and could help prevent unjust evictions that push families into homelessness.

We urge lawmakers to quickly pass the reforms in SB 5600 and HB 1453, which will strengthen our communities and stabilize families for the future.

Sincerely,

Tracy Daw,

SVP, General Counsel & Secretary, Funko

 

Robert Dzielak

Chief Legal Officer & Secretary, Expedia Group, Inc.

 

Rachel Gonzalez

EVP, General Counsel & Secretary, Starbucks Corporation

 

Kyle Levine

VP, Legal, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary. Alaska Airlines, Inc.

 

Diankha Linear

VP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Convoy, Inc.

 

Michael Parham

SVP & General Counsel, RealNetworks

 

Fred Rivera

EVP & General Counsel, Seattle Mariners

 

Dev Stahlkopf

Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, Microsoft Corp.

 

Kathy Surace-Smith

VP, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, NanoString Technologies, Inc.

 

David A. Zapolsky

SVP, General Counsel & Secretary, Amazon.com, Inc.

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