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Vancouver renters could see relocation assistance, limits on fees and variable due dates in new city codes

Vancouver City Council will look at a variety of renter protections over this year, take recommendations from advisory group

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 23, 2024, 3:25pm

Renters in Vancouver could see new protections in 2025 thanks to the city council.

“I’m excited for this work. This has been a long time coming,” Councilor Ty Stober said Monday, after the council heard a presentation outlining a Rental Habitability Action Plan.

Over the next year, the Vancouver City Council will consider a series of steps to expand the city’s protections for renters, including updating city code, implementing a rental registration program, conducting regular inspections and making it possible for tenants to purchase affordable housing buildings or complexes.

In May, the city will create an advisory group of landlords, property managers, tenants, developers, mediators and homeless service providers to review and recommend new polices and programs regarding rental housing in Vancouver.

The group will meet throughout 2024 and give the council recommendations by the end of the year, said Vancouver Economic Development Director Patrick Quinton.

Some potential ideas the group will consider include relocation assistance for low-income tenants, limiting fees tenants can be charged and adjustable rent due dates.

Other possibilities would allow tenants, local organizations or nonprofit groups the first right of refusal at purchasing “naturally occurring” affordable housing when it goes up for sale. Naturally occurring affordable housing refers to older apartments or housing that have become less expensive due to age.

Quinton said buyers of older housing often significantly increase rates to cover investments and improvements.

That housing could be kept in the affordable range if local buyers or groups purchased it, Quinton said.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle asked city staff to look at opportunities to strengthen protections for mobile-home tenants.

According to a 2023 state law, mobile-home park owners are required to notify tenants 70 days before they plan to sell. However, those tenants don’t have a right of first refusal under the law, meaning they aren’t guaranteed the first opportunity to make an offer.

“Those individuals absolutely have no natural rights,” she said. “They can’t sell their old mobile home, they can’t transport it and the land underneath it is valuable, unfortunately.”

The city will also consider creating programs and policies other cities in Washington have adopted. These include a rental registration program containing a database of all rental properties in Vancouver, unit habitability certifications and regular rental inspections to preserve older housing and tenant health.

“There’s no way to really have a regular inspection program and communicate standards to landlords and ask for certifications back, if we don’t have an accurate database of which rental units are in the system,” Quinton said.

In July, the city will update its code to comply with ] recent changes in state law.

Vancouver currently requires 45 days’ notice if a rent increase will be more than 10 percent and allows owners of five or more units to give 60 days’ notice for a “no cause” eviction.

In this year’s legislative session, the law changed to require 60 days’ notice for any rent increase and to allow landlords to evict a tenant without cause if the lease is six months to a year.

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The city plans to create a website containing resources and information regarding any changes for landlords and tenants.

By the end of the year, the city council will hear recommendations from the advisory group and potentially take action.

Many of the councilors were excited to hear what the advisory group might propose.

Councilor Sarah Fox said the city should think about how compliance policies could affect different kinds of landlords — including ones who own few rental properties.

“I would hope that we would be able to bring forward a program where we are more incentive-based than punitive-based on bringing properties into those levels of safety,” she said.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.