Opinion: Legislature 2023: House Bill 1124 would increase rents and reduce available rental housing

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center shares why HB 1124 is poor policy that is looking for a problem that does not exist and will not result in better renter protections.

Mark Harmsworth of the Washington Policy Center shares why HB 1124 is poor policy that is looking for a problem that does not exist and will not result in better renter protections

Mark Harmsworth
Washington Policy Center

House Bill 1124 (HB 1124), introduced by Representative Strom Peterson (D), would increase rents and reduce available rental housing in the residential rental market. The bill would put a 5% cap on rent increases annually, unless the property owner gives at least 6 months’ notice to the renter of the increase. A renter would then be able to terminate an existing lease, without penalty as long as its not within 45 days’ notice of the increase date. The bill would also create a right of action for treble damages against a property owner that continues to collect rent according to the original lease agreement, if the tenant decides not to accept a 5% (or other amount) rent increase.

Mark Harmsworth, Washington Policy Center
Mark Harmsworth, Washington Policy Center

HB 1124 caps rent late payment fees that can be assessed to $75.

Rents are going to increase as property owners will want higher rents to mitigate the risk of a renter walking away from a lease without a penalty. This cost will be passed onto all the renters, including ones with excellent credit and rental histories who pay rent on time.

Property owners, to avoid the instability that HB 1124 would create, are likely to offer leases limited to 12-months to avoid the penalties and liabilities prescribed under HB 1124. It is cheaper to allow a tenant to vacate a property after 12 months and then start a new lease with a new tenant at the market rental rate, than lose several months of rent because a renter walked away from a lease early.

HB 1124 would likely create automatic escalators in the original lease agreements (similar to the commercial real estate market) to allow increases above 5% to avoid the HB 1124 restrictions. By accepting the lease agreement in advance, HB 1124 would not be applicable.

The current rate of inflation in the US, created in part by uncontrolled federal spending, is estimated to be 7.1%. Property owners will be losing money on rents even if they increase rents by 5% as prescribed by HB 1124. Property owners will not rent properties at a loss and as a result, less rental property will be available.

HB 1124 would cost renters more money, increase liability for property owners and decrease rental property availability. The increased costs will be amortized across all renters irrespective of a renter is a good or bad tenant.

Decreasing the available rental inventory will drive up rental costs making the rental shortage situation worse.

HB 1124 is poor policy that is looking for a problem that does not exist and will not result in better renter protections. It will lead to less rental property availability and higher rents and should not be adopted.

Mark Harmsworth is the director of the Small Business Center at the Washington Policy Center.


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Edward
Edward
9 days ago

“5%” a year is plenty. – “Unless the property owner gives at least 6 months” is perfectly reasonable. (but there should still be a cap on that too.)

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