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Federal Way just-cause eviction initiative could pave the way for statewide protections

This April 22, 2017 file photo shows For Rent signs in front of a house in Salem, Oregon.
Andrew Selsky
AP Photo
This April 22, 2017 file photo shows For Rent signs in front of a house in Salem, Oregon. Oregon recently passed statewide just-cause eviction protections. Washington state could be next.

A Federal Way initiative to protect more renters from eviction is passing 55-45 percent. That victory, along with growing momentum elsewhere, could pave the way for just-cause eviction protections statewide.

State lawmakers passed several rental protections this year, including more time to pay rent before a tenant can be evicted and more notice time for rent increases. But landlords in most Washington cities can still evict some tenants without having to give a reason.

Inititaive 19-001 in Federal Way seeks to stop that practice. Also known as the "Stable Homes Initiative," the measure outlines the reasons, or causes, a month-to-month renter can be evicted. They include failing to pay rent or otherwise breaking the rules of the rental agreement. The initiative also includes protections for tenants with long-term leases, forcing landlords to offer the chance to renew.

Initiative campaign manager Xochitl Maykovich said voters the campaign encountered while knocking doors were surprised such protections did not already exist. They also were surprised that these no-cause evictions came with just 20 days' notice to vacate.

"Most people understood, especially for working-class folks that are predominantly what Federal Way's demographic is, that means homelessness," Maykovich said. "Because who's going to have all that money up front?"

Seattle has had just-cause protections on the books for decades. But other cities have, up to now, been slow to follow suit.

"It was framed in the statehouse that Seattle was really an outlier among cities," said Democratic State Rep. Nicole Macri, who represents part of the state's largest city.

Among the other renter protections passed this year, Macri also sponsored legislation that would have provided just-cause protections statewide. But the bill failed to make it out of committee.

The initiative victory in Federal Way could indicate a shift.

"Federal Way voters are considered to be far more moderate, certainly suburban, than Seattle voters," Macri said. "I think it demonstrates the broad support for renter protections."

State Sen. Claire Wilson co-sponsored a companion just-cause eviction bill. The Democrat's district includes Federal Way.

"I am strongly in support of the initiative," Wilson said in an email. "I am acutely aware of the difficulties people face in finding affordable housing and how evictions can make an already difficult challenge impossible."

The Burien City Council passed a just-cause eviction policy in October. A similar measure is before the King County Council. California and Oregon also passed statewide just-cause legislation this year.

"As the housing crisis impacts more and more areas of our state, I think that more renters across the state are becoming more engaged in these issues," Macri said.

Macri says she hopes to revive her just-cause eviction bill in 2020.

Landlord groups fought hardagainst the Federal Way initiative, initially taking supporters to court to try to keep it off the ballot. Campaign manager Maykovich hopes the victory will prompt those groups to work with state leaders.

"Ultimately there are more renters than there are landlords," Maykovich said. "This isn't just an issue that a few people care about. This an issue that 55 percent of the people of Federal Way were in support of."

Maykovich is also political director at Washington Community Action Network, which ran the Federal Way initiative and promotes eviction reform along with other progressive causes statewide. She said if state lawmakers fail to pass just-cause protections this session, a statewide ballot initiative is "not off the table."

This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. to include comments from state Sen. Claire Wilson.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.