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?
- 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)(c).
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.