Several tenants and members of Washington CAN protesting unfair and discriminatory treatment and evictions. Haley Donwerth /staff photo.

Several tenants and members of Washington CAN protesting unfair and discriminatory treatment and evictions. Haley Donwerth /staff photo.

Initiative aims to protect renters from eviction

Washignton CAN, Federal Way council members work to prevent unfair evictions for Federal Way renters.

A simple request for a washing machine repair has left April Sweet homeless.

During the two-plus years she’s lived at her Federal Way apartment, she never had any problems from management. Until March 2, when her washing machine broke.

She called her apartment management and requested it be fixed, and she was told due to a backlog of maintenance requests they were unable to fix it until 22 days later, Sweet said.

Shortly after, she received her first notice to vacate, which Sweet says came without a reason.

“When I went to management to complain [about my broken washing machine, the manager] pretty much evicted me out,” Sweet said.

She said the manager knew she had two small children with her, but evicted her anyways without proper reasoning. Due to the first eviction her landlord gave her, Sweet decided to save her rent money to help her move into a new place with her children.

Because she didn’t pay rent, her manager provided her another eviction notice, which stated she needed to leave the residence by Friday, May 31. To add to her struggle, Sweet said the landlord gave her a bad reference to the new apartment she was trying to move to, which resulted in her application being rejected.

“She told them I owed her $2,500, and mind you that a week before she served me the eviction notice,” she said.

Now, she’s going to move in with her daughter for the time being.

Sweet said all of her problems with her apartment complex started when she asked for a simple washing machine repair, and now it’s spiraled into her essentially being homeless.

Erin Fenner, communications director for Washington Community Action Network, said this is a prime example of how the Just Cause Evictions Initiative will help prevent unfair and unlawful evictions.

“This is a pattern that we see,” Fenner said. “Landlords will target tenants who ask for repairs with eviction notices, then they’ll come at them with fees … Tenants will then get slammed with a lot of unexpected and confusing fees that make it really difficult for them to pay rent and then the landlord is able to evict them more quickly.”

Fenner said this is a great example of why Washington CAN is trying to bring things like this initiative to Federal Way.

“We’re doing the initiative, which would mean landlords would have to give a good reason for evicting tenants, and the Rental Inspection Program, which states that landlords would have to have their buildings go through rental inspections because right now they don’t even have the same health code standards that restaurants do.”

She said the purpose of the initiative is to prevent retaliation and discrimination, because she said Washington CAN has seen that most people affected by evictions are people of color and low-income.

Federal Way City Council members Martin Moore and Jesse Johnson are supporting the Just Cause Evictions Initiative.

“It’s our job to make sure everybody is taken care of,” Moore said, noting he’s supporting this initiative to ensure people have a roof over their heads.

Along with working on this initiative, which needs over 7,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot for this November’s election, Johnson said the city is also looking into joining a Rental Inspection Program with Washington CAN. That program would provide protections for renters in cases of safety hazards inside rental housing, such as mold.

“In Federal Way, there are lots of slums and lots of slum lords, and yet tenants can not have the same protections, even though there are more low-income tenants,” Fenner said.

She added that landlords refusing to answer maintenance requests are causing particular harm to those tenants who receive Section 8 assistance.

“Section Eight sends out inspectors and if they find that the house is not habitable, they stop giving Section Eight payments,” she said.

So when landlords refuse repairs and say it’s the responsibility of the renter, Fenner said, this can put some renters in jeopardy of losing a portion of their income.

Ashley Cormier, who often works with Federal Way for Washington CAN, said they are trying to bring these initiatives and programs to Federal Way because the city needs it.

“It’s a really big city,” she said, and it needs to provide more protections for renters.

Federal Way is the ninth-largest city in Washington based on population, at 101,917.

Fenner said this would be a great step to preventing homelessness and ensuring fair treatment for renters in this city.

Unlike the initiative, this program would be something the city council would vote to enter.

Johnson said presentations about the program will be done during council meetings this November and Decembe, with the council voting on the program in January 2020.

Right now, the city doesn’t have an aggressive policy when it comes to renter evictions, Moore said.

If this initiative passes, Johnson said it would be up to the city to determine action against landlords who violate it.

Johnson said they are interested in bringing these initiatives and programs to Federal Way to “… Keep people housed, and ensure the houses are safe [to live in].”

If the Just Cause Evictions Initiative is placed on the ballot, Federal Way residents can vote on it this November.

Fenner said Washington CAN is encouraging their volunteers to turn in their signatures by June 6, however this is not a hard deadline for signatures.

Learn more

More information about this initiative, Washington CAN, and how you can sign the petition can be found at stablehomesfederalway.com.

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