House bill causes Renton Council to reconsider Source of Income Discrimination ordinance draft

HB 2578 is similar to Renton’s ordinance, but has a few key differences.

A house bill that takes effect June 6 conflicts with Renton’s Source of Income Discrimination ordinance, causing City Council members to reevaluate how to proceed.

Council members were briefed at the April 16 Committee of the Whole meeting on the House Bill 2578, which prohibits a landlord from refusing to lease or rent property to a prospective tenant or current tenant, or expelling a tenant from real property based on the source of income.

The bill is similar to Renton’s Source of Income Discrimination ordinance — originally passed in 2016 — however has a few key differences.

The city’s ordinance allows for sources of income to be disregarded if the benefit or subsidy will expire within the lease term, while the state law doesn’t, according to a memo presented to the council.

The city’s ordinance also protects legal and verifiable income sources, while state law protects “benefits and subsidies… or other retirement programs, and other programs administered by any federal, state, local, or nonprofit entity.”

For example, child support is an income source that isn’t protected by the house bill.

The house bill does not have any sort of administrative enforcement of discrimination protections, which means tenants would have to file a civil lawsuit if landlords do not follow the law. In contrast, the Renton ordinance provides enforcement through civil fines and criminal charges, which “provides tenants much greater access to enforceability and holds landlords more accountable,” according to the memo.

While the city is not preempted from having an overlapping ordinance, city staff told council it would be best to make amendments to the current drafted ordinance to reduce confusion for tenants and landlords.

Council members voted on the emergency ordinance in November 2016 when several Section 8 residents received the letters notifying them of their eviction. The ordinance makes it illegal for any property owner, manager, landlord or agent to refuse to rent to a person solely on the fact the person plans to pay a portion of the rent using money from Section 8.

In July 2017, the council voted to remove the sunset date on the ordinance — originally set to expire Aug. 1, 2017 — and asked city staff to look into how to expand the protections of the ordinance to include other housing subsidy programs and define sources of income in the ordinance.

In March 2018, staff presented the council with a drafted ordinance with the expanded protections. The council was expected to vote on the ordinance later this year.

With the passing of HB 2578, council members once again had to consider how to proceed with the drafted ordinance.

Community and Economic Development Director Chip Vincent and Senior Planner Paul Hintz presented the council with four options. The first option was to take no action regarding the city law and instead let state law provide protections for renters. The second is to adopt the ordinance as it is currently drafted. Third, the council could vote to alter the currently drafted ordinance to match the house bill.

The fourth — which is the staff recommended option — is to alter the current draft to be similar to the house bill, but retain the city’s ability to issue civil fines or pursue criminal charges if necessary.

“What we thought the best way to do it was provide the protections provided by the state and layer it with the code enforcement authority of the city,” said Vincent. “We’re using the state rules. The rules are the same, whether you’re in the city or anywhere from the state, but we have our code enforcement authority. In our minds that was the cleanest way to deal with the issue to be the most effective.”

No objections were raised during the meeting and Council President Ed Prince signed the committee report to follow the staff recommended option. The council is expected to vote on the amended ordinance at a later date.