Spokane Advancing Tenant’s Rights Ordinance

“Is Big Brother Here in the City of Spokane?”

October 27, 2022

By Steve Corker, VP Landlord Association

            In 1949, an English author George Orwell published a novel warning against totalitarianism.  In the novel the all-seeing leader known as “Big Brother,” becomes a universal symbol for intrusive government and oppressive bureaucracy.

        An ordinance being considered by the City of Spokane’s City Council this winter, claiming to assist landlords and tenants will in fact mostly benefit tenants, not area landlords!  Passage will ensure more landlords will sell their properties and even more will leave the low-income housing market all together.  The recent sales of middle and low-income properties have driven many homes off the rental markets and caused the new owners of apartments, with their improvements to conform to new codes, to raise rents to cover the costs of high mortgages. This ordinance will lay the ground work for demanding the public sector, government and we tax payers, will finance, subsidize and manage low-income housing in the City of Spokane in the future!

            What are some of the recommendations being considered in the proposed ordinance? Designed to improve conditions for low-income housing, it would create new regulations that impacts all residential rental housing in Spokane.  Some of the considerations:

  1. Requires business licensing and registration for all landlords each year, plus an additional $10 fee for certain properties, with portions of that funding to go toward funding many of the tenant services and programs listed below.
  2. Requiring routine and cause related inspections of most rental properties.
  3. Impose a proactive code enforcement program.
  4. Create a universal background and credit check program.
  5. Create a residential rental property mitigation fund.
  6. Create a legal service and relocation fund for tenants.
  7. Create additional anti-retaliation protections for tenants beyond what current State law provides.
  8. Require 75% of landlord registration business license fees to fund expanded city code enforcement activities
  9. Will create a residential rental property mitigation fund to assist covering the costs of damages done by tenants though funding from and by landlord registration fees.

The draft ordinance comes from a committee made up of a majority of tenant advocates, a committee whose discussions were closed to the public and a committee who received input from city staff and city council members advancing what I believe was a preset agenda.

I was a member of that committee.  We met two or three times then COVID interrupted our discussions and when that committee was later revived in late September, they held one meeting, a meeting where no landlords were present.

What happens next to this proposed legislation is for the Housing Action Subcommittee to finalize the ordinance before is it brought before the Spokane City Council sometime in November or December of this year for passage.  When that happens, we must fill up City Hall and speak out against this measure!  Once the final ordinance is released to the public, we need to e-mail, call, visit our city council members and tell them this ordinance will only make it harder on all renters in the City of Spokane.

Almost 90% of all landlords and tenants meet their obligations each and every year.  This occurred before, during and after the COVID crisis.  But because of the legislation passed in Olympia and by too many cities in this state, rents have gone up for all tenants.  Costs to both landlords and tenants have escalated bring challenges to every renter.  This legislation will only make things more difficult, more challenging for every tenant and every landlord in the City of Spokane.  This double standard imposed by City of Spokane’s City Council will drive low-income housing resources from the City of Spokane to other county areas if not to the State of Idaho and Oregon!

Article written by Steve Corker, LLA Vice President and Director of Governmental Affairs

October 27, 2022