NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, June 10th, 2021

Housing advocates team up to help renters understand their recently expanded rights

As Wash­ing­ton State moves clos­er to its planned June 30th ces­sa­tion of COVID-19 relat­ed restric­tions, hous­ing advo­cates are doing all they can to ensure that renters are pro­tect­ed from being kicked out of their homes, espe­cial­ly in the event that the evic­tion mora­to­ri­um cur­rent­ly in place is allowed to expire.

On May 28th, the Wash­ing­ton Low Income Hous­ing Alliance offered a webi­nar to explain the new statewide ten­ant pro­tec­tions that pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions worked hard to get enact­ed into law. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Ten­ants Union of Wash­ing­ton State, the King Coun­ty Hous­ing Jus­tice Project, and the North­west Jus­tice Project all spoke as part of the pro­gram. The webi­nar was record­ed, and can be watched on demand at any time by click­ing the play but­ton below.

If you don’t have time to watch the webi­nar, here’s a read­out of the event.

Ter­ri Ander­son from Ten­ants Union of Wash­ing­ton State began the webi­nar with some back­ground on issues sur­round­ing ten­an­cy in Washington.

Ander­son not­ed that due to the pan­dem­ic, renters have expe­ri­enced sub­stan­dard liv­ing con­di­tions and increased risk of evic­tion. Addi­tion­al­ly, Black and Brown fam­i­lies are at greater risk of becom­ing home­less because of eviction.

Vallen Solomon of the King Coun­ty Hous­ing Jus­tice Project then sum­ma­rized the ben­e­fits of House Bill 1236, which Gov­er­nor Inslee signed the bill into law on May 10th, 2021. Cham­pi­oned and prime spon­sored by State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Nicole Macri, this bill requires land­lords to state a rea­son before evict­ing someone.

HB 1236 aims to pro­tect res­i­den­tial ten­ants from the begin­ning to end of their ten­an­cies by penal­iz­ing the inclu­sion of unlaw­ful lease pro­vi­sions and lim­it­ing the rea­sons for evic­tion, refusal to con­tin­ue, and termination.

In May of 2020, NPI’s poll­ster asked 1,070 like­ly Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers what they thought of Macri’s bill. 60% of those sur­veyed (three-fifths) said they agreed with the idea, while 34% dis­agreed. 6% were not sure.

Here’s the ques­tion we asked, and the respons­es we received:

QUESTION: Under cur­rent state law, land­lords may evict ten­ants with­out pro­vid­ing a rea­son. Do you strong­ly agree, some­what agree, some­what dis­agree, or strong­ly dis­agree that the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture should improve land­lord-ten­ant rela­tion­ships by requir­ing land­lords to give a rea­son when attempt­ing to move some­one out of a home?

ANSWERS:

  • Agree: 60%
    • Strong­ly: 36%
    • Some­what: 24%
  • Dis­agree: 34% 
    • Some­what: 14%
    • Strong­ly: 20%
  • Not sure: 6%

Our sur­vey of 1,070 like­ly 2020 Wash­ing­ton State vot­ers was in the field from Tues­day, May 19th through Wednes­day, May 20th, 2020.

It uti­lizes a blend­ed method­ol­o­gy, with auto­mat­ed phone calls to land­lines and text mes­sage answers from cell phone only respondents.

The poll was con­duct­ed by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mar­gin of error of +/- 3.0% at the 95% con­fi­dence level.

Thanks to Gov­er­nor Inslee’s bill action, evic­tions will have to be for cause going for­ward. The sev­en­teen jus­ti­fi­able caus­es are found in sec­tion 2(2) of the law. Some exam­ples of cau­sa­tion for evic­tions are:

  • non-pay­ment of rent
  • ten­ant com­mits waste or nui­sance upon the premises
  • land­lord plans to demol­ish or sub­stan­tial­ly reha­bil­i­tate premises
  • ten­ant know­ing­ly and inten­tion­al­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed mate­r­i­al facts in their application

There are some excep­tions out­lined in sec­tions 2(1)(b) and 2(1)©.

These excep­tions refer to fixed term leas­es that become month-to-month and long or suc­ces­sive term leas­es that do not become month-to-month.

Next, Mered­ith Bruch from North­west Jus­tice Project gave an overview of right to attor­ney leg­is­la­tion for evict­ed indi­vid­u­als. She began by stat­ing that there is no absolute right to coun­sel, it is depen­dent on the avail­abil­i­ty of funding.

Right to coun­sel also does not apply to the medi­a­tion stage.

Cur­rent­ly, OCLA (the Office of Civ­il Legal Aid) is dis­pers­ing more fund­ing to legal aid providers and vol­un­teer lawyer programs.

They plan to cre­ate a new evic­tion defense screen­ing line with one pri­ma­ry point of intake to smooth out bureau­crat­ic issues.

To be eli­gi­ble for these ser­vices, you must be “an indi­gent ten­ant in an unlaw­ful detain­er pro­ceed­ing”. OCLA has already approved the hir­ing of attor­neys in sev­er­al areas of the state, but ramp­ing up this process will take time.

Tam­my Artzen of North­west Jus­tice Project out­lined the repay­ment plans under the cur­rent evic­tion mora­to­ri­um (20–19.6).

These repay­ment plans apply to “rent and oth­er charges” as a result of COVID-19 and dur­ing a state of emer­gency until the mora­to­ri­um ends.

There are a few vari­a­tions of this type of plan, how­ev­er, all of them have a com­mon con­tin­gency of ‘rea­son­able­ness’.

Repay­ment plans must be rea­son­able for the ten­ant, although rea­son­able is nev­er clear­ly defined, leav­ing a loop­hole in legal jargon.

Artzen advised that ten­ants on a repay­ment plan make a bud­get, be clear about their cir­cum­stances, apply for assis­tance, and com­mu­ni­cate in writing.

Next, Mered­ith Bruch intro­duced the Evic­tion Res­o­lu­tion Pro­gram (ERP).

ERP began in King, Clark, Pierce, Thurston, Sno­homish, and Spokane coun­ties and may expand to oth­ers depend­ing on fund­ing from the Office of the Admin­is­tra­tor of the Courts (OAC) and buy-ins from local supe­ri­or courts via local order.

How­ev­er, ERP adop­tion is not mandatory.

Once the evic­tion mora­to­ri­um is lift­ed, all land­lords in the above coun­ties are required to par­tic­i­pate before they can file rent-relat­ed evictions.

Ten­ant par­tic­i­pa­tion, how­ev­er, is voluntary.

Local state Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion Cen­ters (DRC) will han­dle the case process.

Bruch then out­lined some ten­ant cautions.

Ten­ants must respond with­in four­teen days of their first notice from the DRC.

Addi­tion­al­ly, ten­ants should only agree to a pay­ment plan that they know they can keep. Arntzen briefly named three pro­tec­tions against hous­ing denial. They are: no late fees, report­ing under­paid rent, and med­ical his­to­ry inquiry.

Last­ly, Vallen Solomon con­clud­ed the brief­ing by explain­ing what the evic­tion process will look like after the mora­to­ri­um is lift­ed. Solomon said peo­ple can be evict­ed once the mora­to­ri­um expires if they are being evict­ed for rental debt pri­or to March 1st (2020), if they are being evict­ed for non-rent, or if they have default­ed or refused a pay­ment plan that meets SB 5160’s requirements.

In cas­es with debt pri­or to March 1st, 2020, land­lords do not need to offer an addi­tion­al repay­ment plan nor do they need to go through mediation.

Addi­tion­al­ly, in the event of a non-rent relat­ed evic­tion, land­lords do not need to show proof of a pay­ment plan as set out in SB 5160.

With respect to non-pay­ment evic­tions after the mora­to­ri­um ends, SB 5160 requires land­lords offer the ten­ant a repay­ment plan and medi­a­tion. Solomon says it is unclear how long the evic­tion process will take at this point. There are many com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors that can impact the entire process, like set cal­en­dar caps, DRC lim­its on case­load, right to coun­sel, and oth­er unknowns.

As men­tioned, Gov­er­nor Inslee has yet to extend the evic­tion mora­to­ri­um past June 30th, though NPI and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions have request­ed that he do so.

With ten­ants who are deal­ing with non-rent and non-pay­ment fac­ing an uncer­tain future, it is essen­tial that pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions work togeth­er to help renters under­stand their new­ly expand­ed rights and legal options.

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