Federal Way renters seek more protection from city

Coalition addresses obstacles such as more notice on rent increases and limits on late fees.

A group of Federal Way residents is asking for the city to immediately require a six-month advance notice in writing to tenants of any and all rent increases, and also cap late rent fees at no more than $10 a month.

The Federal Way Rent Stabilization Committee (FWRSC) is made up of Federal Way residents and local public services workers who are trying to stop homelessness before it starts by pushing the city to enact protection measurements for tenants.

Tenants within Federal Way city limits actually have less protection than those in nearby unincorporated East Federal Way. In unincorporated King County, landlords are required to provide 120 days notice if the rent increase is greater than 3 percent, and late fees are capped at 1.5 percent of the rent.

Federal Way did adopt eviction protections in 2019, but landlords must only provide 60 days notice of an increase in rent, and there is no restriction on late fees. The 2019 ordinance was put in place “to protect the community and help our economy thrive, and to support basic fairness, the city will prohibit landlords from terminating a tenancy unless they comply with tenant protection laws and show good cause for the eviction, and the city will prohibit retaliatory evictions and evictions that discriminate.”

That ordinance also acknowledged that “the city of Federal Way faces an unprecedented housing affordability and homelessness crisis. This crisis has made tenants vulnerable to abuse, including violations of tenant protection laws and retaliatory and discriminatory evictions. These related abuses negatively impact our community.”

Fred DuBon spoke at a recent Federal Way City Council meeting, sharing a time that his rent increased by $500, causing his family to make the high pressure decision on whether to try to find new housing. He is a member of the Federal Way Rent Stabilization Committee and said a longer notice would be good for both landlords and tenants. The 180 days would make it so that “families can make a decision of whether they can stay or leave. It would also help landlords because they would know when people are moving out and can plan.”

Another Federal Way resident spoke about a similar situation through a translator – both at the city council meeting and at a candidate forum before the election. Jasmine Lopez said she has seen a raise in rents in the past year that property owners are implementing “seemingly at their whim.” In her personal experience, she said that in her building, “several families have had to leave because they’re unable to complete the $200 or $300 extra that their rent is now.”

“If someone gets behind in the rent payment, they charge you an extra hundred or more on top of it,” Lopez added. “I’ve heard other cities have implemented reasonable protections for tenants, and I would like to ask you all if you all are considering something of that nature as well.”

Mayor Jim Ferrell responded directly to Lopez in the council meeting: “Thank you very much and I will have Bill Vadino from my office contact you right now and we will reach out with some answers to your questions.”

In an emailed statement regarding the specific requests of the FWRSC, Mayor Ferrell shared that he is “not in favor of the proposals discussed during the recent City Council meeting as they do not seem reasonable,” adding that “it is critical to balance tenant protections and the rights of all parties involved. Ultimately, excessive tenant protections could negatively impact the availability of affordable housing.”

At the Federal Way City Council candidate forum held at Mujer al Volante on Oct. 25, council members had varied responses to the requests of the FWRSC.

Councilmember Jack Walsh shared a similar statement to the mayor’s, saying that perhaps 90 days could be a more reasonable increase to the length of time that a landlord should give a tenant before a rent increase.

In a recent phone call with The Mirror, Walsh added he would be open to structuring caps on late fees similarly to the late fees paid with a mortgage — a percentage of the tenant’s rent. SeaTac and unincorporated King County both use this strategy.

Walsh also highlighted the importance of balancing the needs of small landlords with renters, highlighting that landlords also have to manage changes in taxes and fees and their own mortgage payments, which they might not get much notice for.

At that candidate forum in October, Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson shared that during the time she was renting, she experienced the challenge of high rents firsthand, to the point that she actually became homeless.

“I do support what you’re saying,” Assefa-Dawson said. “I believe there’s got to be some kind of an ordinance or something that the city should implement because people who are living on either fixed income or low income cannot afford the increase.”

She added: “Giving them the time, whether it’s six months or less, because sometimes you also have to negotiate for actual leniency.” In general she said she supports some kind of protection “because people are going to become homeless otherwise, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Deputy Mayor Susan Honda said that she has been working with the coalition and had encouraged them to come to city council.

“We had one gentleman who….came to our Parks and Public Safety Committee meeting and the Chairman of the Land Use Committee meeting decided that it would be pushed to the Land Use Committee meeting and that eventually then it would go to the whole council for a discussion.”

The subject was not brought up at the most recent LUTC meeting that occurred after Honda made that statement. Ultimately, Honda said that “everyone deserves a safe place to live and everyone should have a safe, healthy place to live that they can afford.”

Nearby ordinances

Seattle and now Tacoma both require at least 180-day notices for any rent increase. Auburn requires 120 days notice if the rent increase is over 5 percent, and Burien and SeaTac require 120-day notices if the increase is greater than 3 percent and 180 days if it is over 10 percent. Renton and Kent do not have any requirements over the 60-day notice required in the state.

Seattle, Auburn, Burien and Tacoma have all adopted the same late fee cap that’s being advocated for by the coalition in Federal Way of $10 per month. SeaTac has capped late fees at 2 percent of the monthly rent.

At the Federal Way City Council meeting, DuBon told the council that his family had voted to re-elect all the current members of the council. “On Tuesday night we stood with you,” he said in public comment. “Now we’re asking you to stand with us.”