State lawmakers say lifting ban on rent control unlikely

Originally published 9/17/15

Rising rents and skyrocketing housing costs are making rent control a hot topic in Seattle, but it won't go anywhere without the state legislature's endorsement. Lawmakers from both parties told KING 5 a law to lift the ban on rent control is unlikely to be passed any time soon.

"There's not the votes to do it, and it's a bad idea," said Rep. Matt Manweller, a Republican from Ellensburg.

Republicans are a minority in the state House, but Manweller says many of his Democratic colleagues share his views.

"The legislature is not in the business of passing laws to hurt people, and rent control has serious detrimental effects as proven by 60 years of academic and scientific research," he said. "Democrats and Republicans use the same kind of calculator and the basic math says rent control does far more harm than good."

Manweller debated Seattle's Kshama Sawant on the topic back in July. Sawant, the outspoken socialist elected to the city council in 2013, has made "housing justice" a key element of her campaign for reelection.

"The City Council has an obligation to demand Olympia lift its undemocratic ban on regulating rents. Last year, House Speaker Frank Chopp said he supported rent control but hadn't heard Seattle say they wanted the ability to control rents. Well, I think that the people have made it loud and clear," said Sawant.

Even if Chopp could convince his entire caucus to overturn the ban on rent control laws, the GOP Senate would be unlikely to go along.

"Unless there's bipartisan support, it's hard for me to imagine moving it forward," state Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) told KING 5. Jinkins chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which hears all bills involving tenants and landlords.

She said the last attempt to boost tenants' rights, HB 2051, failed to get a vote on the floor this past session. The bill aimed to provide "adequate time and assistance for tenants relocated due to rent increases." It passed out of committee, but never made it to the floor for debate and a vote.

A substantially more aggressive bill regarding rent control would face even more scrutiny. While Jinkins says it's hard for her to predict and outcome, she said, "I would certainly hear the bill. I think it's certainly worthy of a hearing and public discussion."

As for the governor, a spokesman for Jay Inslee said: "We don't have a position on this at this point. I'm sure it'll come up again, though, and if the resolution actually happens we will revisit this."


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