The state Attorney General has sued the city of Sunnyside over what it says are civil rights violations related to the city’s crime-free rental housing program.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, alleges Sunnyside violated state and federal law on multiple occasions when landlords in the program evicted tenants without proper notice, many of whom had no proven criminal activity, and all of whom were evicted without official court orders, as required by law.

The lawsuit said the evictions displaced renters who were mainly Latino, women or families with children.

The lawsuit says that the office’s staff tried to work with Sunnyside repeatedly to remedy the issues, with the most recent attempt in March, without success.

Sunnyside City Manager Martin Casey said the city is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit, but added he was disappointed by the Attorney General’s Office’s decision to file a lawsuit.

“The city has held ongoing discussions with the AG’s office about its CFRH program since 2017,” Casey said. “The city has cooperated with the AG’s office and has worked in good faith to understand what concerns, if any, it had about the program.”

Casey said that despite the city’s requests, the AG’s office declined to provide Sunnyside with any concrete examples of alleged violations of the program.

“The lawsuit filed today still fails to identify the names of any alleged victims or dates of alleged violations,” Casey said. “This has made understanding or resolving any concerns virtually impossible.”

Crime-free housing

The Legislature authorized crime-free rental housing programs in 2010. Sunnyside started its program that year.

The programs, a collaboration between police, tenants and landlords, aim to reduce criminal activity, including drug and gang-related crimes, in rental housing units.

Sunnyside’s program allows the city to waive annual residential rental housing license fees, ranging from $100 to $750, for landlords who voluntarily participate. Any landlord who receives two or more notices from the police of criminal activity on the property also must participate in the program or remedy the situation.

In exchange for the waived fees, landlords have tenants sign a lease addendum that criminal acts by the tenant won’t be tolerated. Landlords must also comply with the Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which requires appropriate notification from landlords to tenants in the event of eviction and official court orders to start proceedings.

Landlords who fail to comply with the program requirements have to pay the licensing fee with 10 percent interest.

A dozen cities in Washington — including Yakima, Spokane, Prosser, Walla Walla and Tacoma — also have crime-free housing program agreements in place. Several others, including Moses Lake and Shelton, are considering implementing programs.