Proposed rental regulations ignite debate between Spokane landlords, tenants

Renters make up nearly half of Spokane — and their landlords are up in arms over a set of proposed regulations for rental properties.

Council president Ben Stuckart and council member Breean Beggs have each proposed ordinances which aim to protect tenants in Spokane.

The first, proposed by Beggs, seeks to create a local residential tenancy code. The point of contention in Beggs’ proposal is the idea of relocation assistance. If approved, landlords would be required to pay tenants $2,000 and refund their deposits only if a rent hike makes it impossible for them to pay rent.

The second, proposed by Stuckart, outlines seven “specific causes” for evicting a tenant, including failure to pay and a material violation, which includes the tenant’s conduct.

Rent in Spokane is at at least a ten-year high, as tenants are paying an average of about $1,000 per month. About a quarter of those renters are cost-burdened, which means at least half of their income goes toward rent. Those who lose housing may have trouble finding a new place to land, as the vacancy rate in Spokane sits at 3.3%, which falls short of what’s considered healthy at 5%.

“There are just times when you create an environment that is going to discourage people from continuing to take on the responsibility — the business responsibility of providing housing,” said Steve Corker, a former city councilman who now serves as president of the Landlords Association of the Inland Northwest.

Corker told 4 News Now he believes it could be one of those times soon, should the council approve the new regulations.

On the other hand, Terri Anderson, who serves as co-executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington, thinks this is a step in the right direction.

“It’s exactly what we need to do to stabilize housing in Spokane,” Anderson said. “I think that it evens the playing field a little bit. It has some level of accountability so landlords don’t just displace tenants thinking there’s no consequences to those actions.”

Though Corker believes there will be an unintended consequence — he said landlords are worried they’ll be driven out of business by the $2,000 price tag that would come with relocation assistance.

“It creates a management problem that will discourage certain people from staying in business,” Corker said. “The big ones have resources, finances — small landlords can’t even get money from the banks to do some of the improvements the city wants done.”

The city council was originally set to vote on the proposed changes at its meeting Dec. 9, but Beggs said the council has received such a big response from landlords and tenants, they’ve postponed the vote to March 1.