Last week, hundreds of property owners came to the Capitol to let lawmakers know they oppose several new rental housing regulations that are making their way through the Legislature.
Dozens came from Central and Eastern Washington, which means they braved snowy mountain passes to get here. Many took time off work. They wore matching T-shirts, waved signs in the rain and crammed themselves into three different hearing rooms to listen to testimony on some of the proposed bills.
If that seems like a strong reaction, it’s because those bills — House bills 2779, 2453 and 2520 — would be extraordinarily cumbersome to rental-property owners.
HB 2779 allows the government to set limits on how much a property owner can charge for rent, otherwise known as rent control. HB 2453 forces a property owner to renew an expiring lease if that’s what the tenant wants. HB 2520 increases recordkeeping requirements for security deposits.
These measures are being proposed less than six months after the most sweeping changes to rental housing law in 40 years took effect. Property owners are still adjusting to — and paying for — those new, complicated changes. It’s too soon to add more regulations.
What’s more, whatever small benefit these bills would afford tenants comes at huge costs to rental-property owners.
Rent control has existed for years in New York City and San Francisco, where it’s led to some of the largest housing shortages in the country. California and Oregon recently passed rent control and are already seeing fewer new units being constructed.
A law similar to HB 2453 exists in Seattle but was determined to be illegal. Regardless of the court ruling, not every community in Washington is like Seattle. Regulations that raise the cost of rental homes may be tolerated there, but they don’t work in the rest of the state where incomes and costs of living are lower.
Bills like these discourage investment in private housing, which lowers the number of homes available for rent. Right now, Washington has about 225,000 fewer housing units than it needs, and that shortage directly contributes to our state’s homeless crisis. These bills aren’t just bad for property owners, they’re bad for our state.
The property owners who came to Olympia last week told stories about what it is like to provide rental homes in places like Yakima, Spokane and Everett. They warned that their situations will only get worse if these bills become law. Let’s not follow California, Oregon or Seattle over the cliff. Instead, let’s create policies that encourage people to build more homes.
Jeremie Dufault is a Republican from Selah. He represents the 15th Legislative District in the Washington State House of Representatives.