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#1 Renter Protections

Renter Relocation Assistance

City of Bellingham Initiative No. 2021-01


WHEREAS, rental demand continues to grow in Bellingham, but wages have not kept pace with housing costs. According to the American Community Survey, 57% of renting households in Bellingham are cost-burdened (spending more than 30% of household income on housing) with 30% being severely cost-burdened (spending more than 50% of household income on housing).

WHEREAS, low-income households bear the brunt of high housing costs; of those households making 50% or less of the median income in Whatcom County, 81% are either cost burdened or severely cost burdened.

WHEREAS, renters disproportionately bear the burden of low incomes and high housing costs. Almost 55% of rental households are cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened, as compared to 28% of homeowners. A third of Bellingham renters are severely cost-burdened.

WHEREAS, the current rental vacancy rate in Bellingham is among the lowest in the nation. Estimates for the vacancy rate in Fall 2020 varied from .2% to just over 2%, both of which are far below the 5-7% vacancy rate that the City of Bellingham defines as healthy.

WHEREAS, low vacancy rates make it difficult for renters to find decent, safe, affordable housing.

WHEREAS, moving among rentals often requires large sums of money, including first and last month's rent, deposits, moving expenses, and utility deposits for a new residence.

WHEREAS, forced relocation is not merely expensive but puts renters under economic stress that increases their risk of becoming homeless.


Section 1. Amendment to Bellingham, Washington, Municipal Code.

Title 6.12.020 to be amended as follows:

Any rental agreement or renewal of a rental agreement for a residential rental unit in the City of Bellingham entered into after the effective date of this chapter shall include or shall be deemed to include a provision requiring a minimum of 60 ==90 days’== prior written notice whenever the periodic or monthly housing costs to be charged a tenant are to increase by 10 ==5 percent== or more over the periodic or monthly rental rate charged the same tenant for the same housing unit and same services for any period or month during the preceding 12-month period. [Ord. 2018-02-004 § 2].

Section 2. Policy of Rental Relocation Assistance Ordinance:

  1. It is the policy of the City of Bellingham that all residents, regardless of income level, family composition, race, ethnicity or physical ability, have reasonable certainty in their housing, whether publicly assisted or on the private market.

  2. Publicly assisted rental housing affordable to low and moderate-income persons and households should be preserved as a long-term resource to the maximum extent practicable, and the tenants of such properties should receive protections to facilitate securing new housing should the affordable units be converted to market-rate units or otherwise be lost as a resource for low and moderate-income housing.

  3. Bellingham renters in unregulated housing on the private market need additional protections to ensure that there is adequate time to find alternative housing in the case of a no-cause eviction and adequate time to budget for an increase in rent.

Section 3. Definitions

For the purposes of this Article, the following terms have the following meanings:

  1. “Relocation Assistance” means assistance in the form of a monetary payment to a tenant who is relocating due to being served a no-cause eviction or encountering any of the triggering events that would otherwise cause a financial burden unto the tenant to aid in costs of relocation (moving costs, utilities deposits, security deposits, first/last month's rent, and any applicable pet fees).

  2. “Dwelling unit” means a single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for one or more persons on a nontransient basis including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.

  3. “Housing costs” means the compensation or fees paid or charged, usually periodically, for the use of any property, land, buildings, or equipment. For purposes of this Article, housing costs include the basic rent charge and any periodic or monthly fees for other services paid to the landlord by the tenant, but do not include utility charges that are based on usage and that the tenant has agreed in the rental agreement to pay, unless the obligation to pay those charges is itself a change in the terms of the rental agreement.

  4. "Landlord” is defined in and within the scope of RCW 59.18.030 and 59.18.040 of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act of 1973 (“RLTA”) in effect at the time the rental agreement is executed. At the time of adoption of this Article, the RLTA defined “landlord” as “the owner, lessor, or sublessor of the dwelling unit or the property of which it is a part,” and included “any person designated as representative of the landlord.”

  5. “Rental agreement” is defined in and within the scope of RCW 59.18.030 and 59.18.040 of the RLTA in effect at the time the rental agreement is executed. At the time of adoption of this Article, the RLTA defined “rental agreement” as “all agreements which establish or modify the terms, conditions, rules, regulations, or any other provisions concerning the use and occupancy of a dwelling unit.”

  6. “Tenant” is defined in and within the scope of RCW 59.18.030 and 59.18.040 of the RLTA in effect at the time the rental agreement is executed. At the time of adoption of this Article, the RLTA defined “tenant” as “any person who is entitled to occupy a dwelling unit primarily for living or dwelling purposes under a rental agreement.”

  7. “Substantial rehabilitation” means required repairs, replacements, and improvements cost of which exceeds either:

    1. 15 percent (exclusive of any soft costs) of the property's replacement cost (fair market value) after completion of all required repairs, replacements, and improvements. or
    2. $6,500 per dwelling unit.
  8. “Termination notice” is a written notice that the landlord is terminating a rental agreement without cause or for a qualifying landlord reason under this article.

  9. “Increase notice” is a written notice from the landlord declaring the amount which the landlord is increasing the rent or associated housing costs, whenever the landlord increases such rent or associated housing costs more than 5% over a rolling 12-month period.

  10. “Tenant’s notice” is a written notice from the tenant to the landlord requesting relocation assistance in response to an increase notice.

  11. “Relocation period” is the 4 months following the receipt of relocation assistance.

Section 4. Renter Relocation Assistance

  1. If a landlord terminates a rental agreement without a cause or for a qualifying landlord reason specified in this Article, the landlord must deliver a termination notice to the tenant by registered mail or other form specifically agreed to in writing by the tenant,

    1. not less than 90 days before the termination date designated in that notice as calculated under the Article; or
    2. the time period designated in the rental agreement, whichever is longer.
  2. Not less than 45 days prior to the termination date provided in the termination notice, a landlord shall pay relocation assistance to the tenant equivalent to:

    1. Either a sum equalling three times the current fair market rent for Bellingham, WA as defined by HUD Office of Policy Development and Research for an apartment of the same size; or

    2. three times the tenant’s existing monthly rent, whichever is larger.

  3. The requirements of this Subsection are intended to apply per dwelling unit, not per individual tenant.

Section 5. Notice of Rental Increase and Right to Relocation Assistance

  1. As allowed by the Article, if a landlord increases a tenant's rent or associated housing costs by 5 percent or more over a rolling 12-month period, the landlord shall deliver an increase notice to each affected tenant:

    1. at least 90 days prior to the effective date of the rent increase; or

    2. the time period designated in the rental agreement, whichever is longer.

  2. The increase notice must specify

    1. the amount of the increase,

    2. the total amount of the new rent or associated housing costs,

    3. the date when the increase becomes effective, and

    4. a rationale for the rent increase.

  3. If, within 45 calendar days after each tenant receives an increase notice indicating a rent increase of 8 percent or more within a rolling 12-month period, the tenant may provide a tenant's notice to the landlord, in which the tenant requests relocation assistance.

  4. Within 31 calendar days of receiving the tenant’s notice, the landlord shall pay to the tenants relocation assistance equivalent to:

    1. Either a sum equalling three times the current fair market rent for Bellingham, WA as defined by HUD Office of Policy Development and Research for an apartment of the same size; or

    2. three times the tenant’s existing monthly rent, whichever is larger

  5. The requirements of this Subsection are intended to apply per dwelling unit, not per individual tenant.

Section 6. Return of Relocation Assistance

  1. If the tenant receives timely relocation assistance as provided for under this Article, the tenant shall have a relocation period of four months from the date of the receipt of the relocation assistance

  2. At the conclusion of this relocation period, if the tenant remains in the dwelling unit, the tenant shall be obligated to pay the increased rent in accordance with the increase notice for the duration of the tenant’s occupancy of the dwelling unit and to repay the relocation assistance.

  3. In the event that the tenant has not repaid the relocation assistance to the landlord before the expiration of the Relocation Period, the tenant shall be in violation of this Subsection.

Section 7. Notice

A landlord shall provide notice to the City of Bellingham of:

  1. all tenant’s notices requesting payment of relocation assistance, within 30 days of receipt of such notices; and

  2. all payments of relocation assistance within 30 days of making such payments.

Section 8. Enforcement

  1. In the event of a landlord’s failure to comply with this Article, a tenant shall have a cause of action in any court of competent jurisdiction for such payments and damages listed herein and other remedies as may be appropriate.

  2. A landlord that fails to comply with any of the requirements set forth in this Article shall be liable to the tenant for an amount equal to double the amount of relocation assistance specified herein, actual damages, and reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Section 9. Exceptions

The provisions of this Article do not apply to the following so long as the landlord has submitted a required exemption application form to the City of Bellingham, and the City of Bellingham shall have issued an exemption acknowledgment letter, and the landlord shall have provided a copy of such exemption acknowledgment letter to the tenant.

  1. Rental agreements for week-to-week tenancies;

  2. Tenants that occupy the same dwelling unit as the landlord;

  3. Tenants that occupy one dwelling unit in a duplex where the landlord’s principal residence is the second dwelling unit in the same duplex;

  4. Tenants that occupy an accessory dwelling unit, as defined under Bellingham Municipal Code 20.10.036, so long as the owner of the accessory dwelling unit lives on the site;

  5. A landlord that temporarily rents out the landlord's principal residence during the landlord's absence of not more than 3 years;

  6. A landlord that temporarily rents out the landlord’s principal residence during the landlord’s absence due to active duty military service;

  7. A dwelling unit regulated or certified as affordable housing by a federal, state or local government for a period of at least 60 years is exempt from paying relocation assistance for a rent increase of 8 percent or more within a rolling 12-month period:

    1. so long as such increase does not increase a tenant’s portion of the rent payment by 8 percent or more within a rolling 12-month period; or

    2. in lease agreements where the rent or eligibility is periodically calculated based on the tenant’s income or other program eligibility requirements and a rent increase is necessary due to program eligibility requirements or a change in the tenant’s income. This exemption does not apply to private market-rate dwelling units with a tenant who is the recipient of a federal, state, or local government voucher; this exemption applies to rent increases and does not apply to termination notices;

  8. A dwelling unit that is subject to and in compliance with the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970;

  9. A dwelling unit rendered immediately uninhabitable not due to the action or inaction of a landlord or tenant;

  10. A dwelling unit rented for less than 6 months with appropriate verification of the submission of a demolition permit prior to the tenant renting the dwelling unit, provided that the tenant has been issued written notice, prior to their signing of the rental agreement, of the submission of a demolition permit;

  11. A dwelling unit where the landlord has provided a fixed term tenancy and notified the tenant prior to occupancy, of the landlord’s intent to sell or permanently convert the dwelling unit to a use other than as a dwelling unit subject to the Article.

Section 10. Severability

The provisions of this section are severable. If any provision of this Article or its application is held invalid, that invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Will initiative #1 make rents go up?

Initiative #1 will provide predictability and stability for renters and landlords in Bellingham. It ensures that when landlords increase rents rapidly, renters have some security as they seek a new rental. The average cost of a one bedroom rental in Bellingham has doubled from $675 to $1,325 since 2014. While rental relocation assistance is not perfectly analogous, landlords already have similar forms of security against their own financial risk. For example, many landlords require renters to provide a security deposit and last month’s rent up front. Renters deserve to have our financial risks protected, too. The city of Portland, Oregon successfully implemented mandatory Renter Relocation Assistance quite similar to our proposed initiative. This law is not overly burdensome for landlords; nor will it slow down the pace of real estate development in Bellingham. By setting the threshold for triggering rental relocation assistance at 8%, the initiative ensures that landlords can still make a healthy profit, afford maintenance, and absorb property tax increases. (Most of us would love to see our gross income increase by anywhere close to 8% per year.)

Do no-cause evictions happen in Bellingham?

In May of 2020, after we had already started gathering signatures for initiative #1, Governor Inslee signed HB 1236 into law, which banned no-cause evictions throughout the state. Even still, HB 1236 does not address the difficulties renters face when they are priced out of an existing rental. In cases of 8% or more rent increases, relocation assistance is an important step to ensure that the people in our city who are not benefiting from the spectacular rises in the price of housing are protected from displacement. Bellingham rents are continuing to skyrocket, and wages are not keeping up. It’s time we start prioritizing renters over big real estate and landlords in the City.

I have someone renting my basement, how will I be affected?

Initiative 1 is narrowly tailored to apply primarily to landlords engaged in an income-generating business outside their personal home and exempts many small landlords, including anyone who rents out their basement. Section 9 of Initiative 1 does not apply to landlords in the following situations: - week-to-week rentals - rentals shared with the landlord - rentals in a duplex shared with the landlord - rentals of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on a property shared with the landlord - rentals of a landlord’s primary residence for 3 years or less or during the landlord’s active military duty - rentals made uninhabitable through no fault of the landlord - rentals certified as affordable housing - and a few other situations that are harder to summarize.

Has anyone else passed Renter Relocation in WA?

Yes! Seattle City Council has voted in favor of relocation assistance with three months rent and six months notice!

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