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New Residential Rental Ordinance in Bellingham

This is an update to the blog published on January 3, 2018.

Bellingham now has new municipal code provisions changing the obligations of landlords who rent to residential tenants. If you rent or own a rental property in the Bellingham city limits, you need to be aware of these changes.

Source of Income Discrimination

First, new Chapter 6.11 of the Bellingham Municipal Code (or “BMC”), prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to a tenant based on that tenant’s source of income. “Source of income” includes Social Security, federal, state and local aid programs, and housing assistance, but does not include illegal sources of income. A landlord cannot reject a potential tenant just because they receive housing assistance. If a potential tenant has a rent voucher or other subsidy, the landlord must subtract the value of that voucher from the total rent before calculating whether the tenant meets income criteria. However, if a rental unit does not qualify for a particular program such as Section 8, the landlord does not need to accept a tenant with a voucher from that program.  

For example, Kate is a landlord with a house for rent for $1000 per month. Kate requires that all tenants have a monthly income equal to three times the monthly rent. Bill is a potential tenant who applies for the house. Bill has a housing voucher equal to $700 per month. To determine whether Bill meets her income requirements, Kate subtracts $700 from the monthly rent and multiplies that by three. If Bill’s income is $900 or more per month, he has meets the income criteria for the house. If another potential tenant who has an income of $3000 per month applies for the house, Kate could probably not reject Bill simply because some of his rental income came from a housing voucher.

Notice of Rent Increases

Second, new Ch. 6.12 BMC requires landlords to give their tenants more notice of rent increases than is currently required under Washington State law. For any tenancy that begins after the new ordinance became effective, landlords must give tenants 60 days’ written notice of any rental increase of 10% or more. This goes for tenants with periodic leases and month-to-month tenants. This requirement can be waived, but only in very limited circumstances that will not apply to most residential tenancies.

Notice of Termination of Month-to-Month Tenancy

Third, new Ch. 6.13 BMC made a big change from Washington State law that might surprise landlords and renters. Under Washington State law generally, to end a month-to-month tenancy, either the landlord or the tenant must give the other twenty days’ notice prior to the expiration of the current rental period. That is now changed in Bellingham. Renters still only need to give twenty days’ notice, but landlords must now give sixty days’ notice prior to terminating a month-to-month tenancy. (This also applies when a lease rolls over into a month-to-month tenancy.) Note that this does not apply to for-cause evictions.

To illustrate: Paula is a tenant renting an apartment from Kyle, her landlord. Paula’s rent is due on the first of each month. Paula decides she wants to move out on May 31. She would need to inform Kyle in writing of her decision to terminate her tenancy on or before May 11. Now flip the situation: Kyle decides that Paula’s tenancy will be terminated on May 31. Kyle would need to inform Paula in writing on or before March 31.     

Exceptions

If the landlord lives in the dwelling unit with the tenant(s), these rules do not apply. This is the only exception. In all other circumstances, a landlord renting in the Bellingham city limits must follow these new ordinances.

Looking to the Future

These regulations were passed to help tenants struggling with Bellingham’s extremely low rental vacancy rates and high rents. The City Council hopes that these regulations will be effective at helping renters while still being fair to landlords. It plans to revisit these regulations at a meeting with the public sometime around March 2019.

If you have questions about how these rental regulations might impact you, we recommend that you contact an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant law in the City of Bellingham.   

– Catherine Moore

 

This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

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