As expected, on Tuesday Gov. Jay Inslee extended the statewide eviction moratorium through August 1. The new proclamation maintains key features of the previous order, which banned all residential evictions for failure to pay rent, prohibited landlords from charging late fees on missed rent, and froze residential and some commercial rent hikes. People living in cars and renting out parcels or living in transitional housing such as hotels, motels, Airbnbs and camping grounds will also still be covered.
There are, however, a few modifications in this new order.
Some apparent concessions to landlords: The new modifications allow landlords to evict for property damage "except for damage that is not urgent in nature." They also permit property owners to evict tenants with a 60-day notice if they plan to sell or occupy the unit. Rent increases on commercial property scheduled before Feb 29 can go through under the new proclamation, and tenants who live in transitional housing (hotels, motels, etc.) will only be covered if they've been living there for two weeks.
Some good news for tenants: The new version of the order gives tenants a legal defense against landlords who fail to offer "reasonable" repayment plans if tenants are unable to pay rent, and prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants for tapping any of these protections.
So far Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has successfully sued one Nevada-based landlord for violating Inslee's eviction moratorium, returning "almost $300,000 directly to tenants in the form of refunds, payments and rent forgiveness," according to the Seattle Times.
Housing Justice Project managing attorney Edmund Witter applauded the extension but noted a few items of concern. In his view, absent clearer language, courts won't necessarily see payment plans as an enforceable right of the tenant once the moratorium lifts on August 1. So, even if you do work out a payment plan with your landlord, there's no legal guarantee that will be honored 60 days from now.
The proclamation also "doesn't provide for what tenants with no income are supposed to do," Witter said. Business closures due to COVID-19 have hit undocumented immigrants and others who fall through the cracks of the unemployment system especially hard, with some landlords reportedly trying to push out immigrants who can't pay.
While the eviction moratorium helps keep many people off the street for now, housing advocates have been sounding the alarm and speaking with increasing intensity about the wave (or "avalanche," depending who you ask) of evictions that will hit communities, particularly communities of color, once this order lifts or loses a potential court challenge. After all, the moratorium doesn't cancel rent—tenants will still owe tons of back rent they likely will not be able to pay after August, especially if congressional or state lawmakers don't pass any more stimulus legislation.
Washington Community Action Network communications director Erin Fenner said the organization is "relieved" to have more time to push for tenant protections needed to prevent the inevitable wave, but expresses concern about whether state and local politicians will find the spine to enact them.
Fenner is calling for statewide just cause protections, which would force landlords to give tenants a good reason for evicting them. Right now, landlords in most cities across the state can serve renters a 20-day notice for any reason they want. Lawmakers in Olympia failed to pass just cause protections last session despite strong Democratic majorities and high levels of popular support.
Fenner and other housing advocates also want to see the eviction ban for nonpayment of rent made permanent. "Payment plans aren't going to cut it; rent relief is great, but [the politicians] are not going to get the money to cover the amount needed. So we have to make sure that people are stable in their homes while we're finding those other solutions in the meantime, otherwise we're going to see a wave," she said.