Opinion

Washington landlords unfairly targeted

Chris Dobler is a rental property executive at Dobler Property Management Company in Tacoma.
Chris Dobler is a rental property executive at Dobler Property Management Company in Tacoma.

Thirty years: That has been my life’s commitment to keep a roof over the heads of individuals in Pierce County.

I’m a housing provider, and that makes me and others like me unpopular and easy targets.

But we, too, have a story that needs to be told.

A piece by News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll that was published last weekend claims landlords are using changes to the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA) as a tool to evict residents.

The assertion made by renter advocates that Tacoma-area landlords are intentionally removing protections granted to tenants under the RLTA changes is unfair and false.

As a partner in a second-generation, female-owned and locally operated family rental housing business, my goal is to keep people in their homes – not evict them.

Many of us testified in Olympia to share the practical, real-world outcomes the new RLTA laws would have on property owners and residents alike.

Change requires adjustment. Only a few weeks in, both sides are attempting to operate within the confines of a new law that may or may not have unintended consequences

I remember my parents struggling with the inception of the RLTA in 1973, and the many conversations we overheard during family dinners as they contemplated the impact on their apartment buildings.

Under the new law, renters are provided substantially longer time to become current in their rent –14 days, up from three.

Most housing providers, whether they manage a 100-apartment community or a single-family home, offer a three- to seven-day grace period beyond the first of the month, when rent is typically due, before they issue “pay or vacate” notices to renters.

My business oversees more than 70 apartment communities, and our leadership team opted to retain our payment grace period. We decided if we did not do so, our renters, who pay after the first but before the end of the grace period, would be unfairly penalized.

During the legislative session, we advocated for a 10-day “pay or vacate” notice. Other stakeholders wouldn’t agree to this proposal even though it would result in fewer notices served. Furthermore, renter advocates didn’t see earlier service of a notice as a negative concept either.

The insistence on a 14-day notice rather than a shorter timeframe encouraged the rollback of grace periods. While serving a notice to “pay or vacate” may not seem like the ideal starting point, it provides advantages to renters who lack resources to pay rent.

Since many nonprofit service providers require a notice to consider providing financial assistance to renters experiencing financial hardship, the sooner the notice is issued, the better.

Renters unable to make rent benefit from receiving earlier notices so they can work with community resources to make their payment – especially since those funds run out quickly.

Industry advocates crafted reforms to the “pay or vacate” process to work for renters while protecting the investments of housing providers. That includes a state fund to build and retain affordable housing.

They also advocated extending the notice period to terminate a tenancy and passed a law requiring at least 120 days notice when the owner of a rental property intends to demolish, renovate or change the use of a property.

Time and time again, new laws are rolling out to benefit renters.

But who is looking out for those of us who provide their housing?

Chris Dobler of Gig Harbor is executive asset manager for Tacoma-based Dobler Property Management Company, Inc.

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