The Lodge in Walla Walla

A new apartment complex, The Lodge, in Walla Walla on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. 

Halfway through a legislative session where many Washington lawmakers said their top priority would be the state’s housing crisis, two efforts to limit rent increases are dead.

A bill to cap rent hikes in many rentals and another to require six months’ notice of certain rent increases failed to pass the state House of Representatives before a key deadline Wednesday, meaning lawmakers are unlikely to pass either proposal this year.

Without the new regulations, “there are people who will lose their homes to rent increases [this year],” said Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham, who sponsored the bill to cap rent increases, HB 1389. “Many of them will move into another home in another community, but some of them are going to lose their home and they're going to end up sleeping in their cars.”

Landlords and Republicans rallied against the bills, arguing increased regulation would drive landlords out of the state.

Although Democrats have majorities in Olympia, the minority party can stall bills by proposing dozens of amendments in an attempt to run out the clock before a key deadline. 

Democratic leadership did not bring the proposals up for a vote in the final hours before Wednesday's deadline because Republicans made “promises or threats to put dozens of amendments on the bill to create very long floor debates,” said Nicole Macri, a Seattle Democrat who supported both bills.

A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, did not respond to an interview request.

HB 1369 would cap rent increases for tenants of older buildings at 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is higher, up to 7% per year. The proposal would exempt housing built in the last 12 years and allow greater increases after significant renovations or for landlords who can demonstrate "significant hardship" because of unexpected costs. If a landlord skipped raising the rent one year, they could raise the rent higher the following year. After a tenant voluntarily moved out, there would be no limit on the rent the landlord could charge the next tenant.

Oregon lawmakers in 2019 approved a similar measure to cap rent increases at 7% plus inflation each year. In the wake of high inflation, Oregon landlords were allowed to raise rents by nearly 15% this year. 

The second bill, HB 1124, would require landlords to give at least six months' notice of rent hikes over 5% and allow tenants to break a lease to avoid a rent increase of more than 5%. A similar proposal failed last year.

Supporters said protections against rent increases were crucial to help tenants facing unpredictable costs in a tight housing market. "Momentum is building. The understanding that we must do something is really growing," Macri said.

Republicans and landlord groups argued the proposals would drive landlords to sell their properties and likened HB 1389 to stricter rent control in cities such as New York and San Francisco. 

“You’re artificially capping prices,” said Sean Flynn, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington. “You can tinker around the edges … but the underlying principle is the problem.” 

Flynn said he was "encouraged" the bills didn't proceed.

The bills were part of what Democratic lawmakers described as a three-pronged approach to the state’s housing crisis: boosting the supply of market-rate homes, increasing funding for subsidized affordable housing and “stabilizing” tenants struggling to afford rental housing. 

State lawmakers did advance another landlord-tenant proposal. House Bill 1074 would require more documentation in order for landlords to keep a portion of a tenant’s security deposit. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote.

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