State representatives over the weekend approved a bill requiring landlords to provide a valid reason for ending certain leases with tenants, advancing another in a series of proposals to reform the eviction process as the state stares down the end of the current eviction moratorium. 

The proposal (HB 1236), sponsored by Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, passed the state House of Representatives Sunday on a 54-44 vote, mostly along party lines, and now goes to the Senate.

Supporters say the proposal would cut down on arbitrary or biased lease terminations, which can lead to eviction.

Today, state law allows landlords to end month-to-month leases with 20 days’ notice, without providing a reason. If tenants don’t leave, landlords can attempt to evict them. For fixed leases, like six months or one year, current law considers the leases terminated at the end of the term.

The proposal spells out reasons landlords could end leases, including, among other things: failure to pay rent, unlawful activity and nuisance issues, sexual harassment by a tenant, and cases in which a landlord intends to sell or move into a rental.

Known as “just cause” or “good cause” protections, similar rules are on the books in Seattle, Federal Way and other cities.

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During hours of debate Saturday and Sunday, legislators added an exception for some short-term leases. For a tenant’s first lease of three to 12 months, a landlord could end the lease without cause if he or she gives the tenant 60 days’ notice.

Opponents argued the bill would increase burdens on landlords struggling to cover their costs during the pandemic and make it harder to remove problem tenants. “This bill ultimately will make it so that people will no longer want to rent anymore. They will sell those homes and our housing crisis will get worse,” said Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard.

Macri said the COVID-19 pandemic “has exposed that the status quo is leaving too many vulnerable.”

“We can’t go back to a system where renters can easily be forced into homelessness for no fault of their own,” she said.

Under the proposal, landlords who remove tenants in violation of the rules may be subject to a penalty of up to three months’ rent.