Have you ever considered renting a house or apartment to someone who receives public assistance for housing? If you are a landlord who has avoided renting to someone receiving rental assistance money, this column is for you!
Recently two laws went into effects that directly affect landlords. Designed as a pair to help combat homelessness, they tackle the problem from two different angles.
The first one, RCW 59.18.040, makes it illegal to discriminate against tenants or potential tenants based on their source of income. The second law, RCW 43.31.605, established the Landlord Mitigation Program, which makes it more attractive for landlords to rent to people with lower incomes who are receiving rental assistance by offering some financial protection for the landlords.
In a recent column, we discussed the first law, with the help of Cassie Lentz, the housing coordinator of Grays Harbor County’s Public Health and Social Services Department. Today, we will describe the other side of the coin, the law which established The Landlord Mitigation Program.
LANDLORD MITIGATION PROGRAM
As homeless advocates talked to landlords both locally and throughout the state they received feedback that many landlords were nervous about renting to people who received rent subsidies – such as Section 8 or the Coastal Community Action Program’s rental assistance program.
“With the CCAP rental assistance or Section 8 funding, the landlords were being paid directly for the rent, but they had other concerns,” said Cassie. “They didn’t want unusual or illegal behaviors going on that would keep the neighbors up at night or cause other problem.”
Much of that has been addressed now through support programs giving help for issues such as mental illness or addictions, as well as helping some get and keep a job, she said.
So, there were two main concerns left. The landlords were afraid their property might be damaged or that subsidized tenants might leave them in the lurch with unpaid bills, Cassie said. The Landlord Mitigation Program addresses both of these concerns.
The program offers up to $1,000 to the landlord to pay for some potentially required move-in upgrades as well as up to 14 days of rent loss and up to $5,000 in qualifying damages caused by a tenant in the program during tenancy.
Any landlord who has been screened, approved and offered rental housing to any applicant that will be using any form of housing subsidy program is eligible with the exception of properties operated by housing authorities. The program is administered through the Washington State Department of Commerce.
“I’m very hopeful that this Landlord Mitigation Program will make a big difference,” Cassie said. “In Grays Harbor, because the county has chosen to invest staff time to talk to local landlords, we’ve been able to increase the number of interested landlords – those who said they would be willing to consider working with these potential tenants. In the last few years that number has gone from 26 to more than 100. Now with this legislation, I’m optimistic that the number will increase.”
ARE YOU INTERESTED?
For landlords who may be interested in learning more about the program, call the landlord liaison, Cinnamon Chesterman, at Coastal Community Action Program in Aberdeen (360) 533-5100.
“She is very familiar with the Mitigation Fund program, and with finding landlords a tenant,” Cassie said. “Right now, I know we have 10 people who have been approved for funding, have the support services in place and now all they need is a home. We are really looking to open up this process so that we can get people into homes.
“I’m hopeful that this program will be a helpful tool in alleviating landlord’s fears about losing money through damage caused by one of the tenants in these programs. Of course you’d never want to have to use the fund to help with repairs, but it is reassuring that if you did need to use it, you’re ready to go,” Cassie said.
We’re optimistic too. As we’ve said, homelessness is a big issue with lots of different angles, but these two laws – one that protects potential tenants and the other that takes much of the risk away from potential landlords – are both promising parts of the housing puzzle so many are trying to solve.