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'What do you have to lose?': Tenants Union encourages fighting against rent increases

New state laws give tenants more power to stand up to their landlord and unionize, according to the Spokane branch of the Tenants Union.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Apartment for rent sign displayed on residential street.

SPOKANE, Wash — With Spokane's astronomical rent increases, viewers are asking what they can do to prevent eviction and some are asking how to prevent spending the majority of their paycheck on their new rent. Luckily, tenants have some options that they never had before due to new state laws. 

Rent rising all across the region is a problem, but the Spokane housing shortage makes the issue worse. 

"I just think they're super greedy right now," Spokane branch of the Tenants Union of Washington director Terri Anderson said, regarding landlords. "They think all these people are coming into town with all this money in their pocket and they're just going to kick out everybody that already lives in Spokane."

KREM 2 has been hearing story after story of people no longer able to afford their rent. Governor Inslee's emergency proclamation provides additional protections for tenants. This includes the right to a lawyer during the eviction process and requiring a just cause eviction.

All tenants who earn less than 200% of the federal poverty line will be appointed a free attorney. The state said that would be around $25,000 for one person and around $50,000 for four people.

If a landlord is trying to evict a tenant, they must have just cause. Just causes include the sale of the unit, sexual harassment, or unlawful activity. Landlords also can't evict a tenant for failing to pay rent until there is an operational rental assistance program and eviction resolution program in place in the county.

This gives tenants more power to stand up to their landlord, Anderson said.

"If tenants want to organize in their buildings, knock on doors, get the tenants in their building together, and if they would like us to meet with them and show them how to organize, maybe they can negotiate something with the landlord," she added.

Landlords are not allowed to retaliate against tenants. The new just cause law means that tenants who organize together can't be evicted. Because of the new protections in place and the dramatic rise in housing costs, Anderson is suggesting an idea she has never encouraged before.

"We have never ever said to tenants to do a rent strike because the rent strike is going to always get you evicted, withholding rent is going to get you evicted," she said. "But we used to say that before the right to counsel. Now, maybe we might say, take your chances."

There is power in numbers and there have been success stories with renters standing up to landlords as a group, she added.

Only the state of Washington can impose rent control but cities can address rent increases by extending the notice period for increases and they can require landlords to pay relocation costs to tenants when the rent increase is so high that it amounts to an economic eviction, according to Anderson. 

Tenants are encouraged to testify during open comment sessions at Spokane City Council meetings every Monday. The Tenants Union will provide remote testimony help until in-person meetings resume in August. 

Contact terria@tenantsunion.org or call 509-558-7126 if you want to help make more protections for renters.