Tag: eviction moratorium

Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk

By Leo Brine

As the state begins to lift its pandemic restrictions, housing advocates worry that one restriction is ending prematurely.

Washington’s eviction moratorium, which Governor Jay Inslee established at the start of the pandemic, is set to expire on June 30. The bill established a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction—the first law in the nation to do so—but included a Republican amendment establishing the expiration date.

Now, as counties begin begin distributing rent assistance, advocates worry about a vicious cycle in which tenants get evicted because their assistance didn’t arrive on time, and can’t hire attorneys to defend them because legal assistance programs aren’t up and running yet. Advocates are asking Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can hire and train lawyers, set up mediation programs and properly distribute rent assistance to tenants and landlords.

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington.

To prevent hundreds of thousands of people from losing their homes after the moratorium ends, the legislature passed a trio of eviction prevention bills this session. One established a list of 16 “just cause” reasons landlords can give in order to evict a tenant (HB 1236); another will fund state rental assistance programs (HB 1277); and one allows landlords to apply for rental assistance funds and provides a right to counsel for indigent tenants facing eviction, similar to public defenders in criminal cases (SB 5160).

When the House voted on the last bill, they also included an amendment by Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-26, Port Orchard) stipulating that the eviction moratorium is up at the end  of this month. When Inslee signed the bill, he left in Caldier’s amendment, signaling he agreed with setting a hard deadline.

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance is now lobbying Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can get all its eviction protection programs in place. “All we need is time,” Michele Thomas,W LIHA’s Advocacy and Policy Director, said. The protections the state put in place this year are great, she added, but “if the governor does not extend the moratorium, a lot of the work will be for not.”

Thomas said Inslee should end the moratorium on a county-by-county basis, depending on how prepared each county is to handle eviction cases, similar to how the state has lifted COVID restrictions.

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Democrats have also called on the governor to extend the moratorium. On Wednesday, June 17, Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-30, Federal Way), the chair of the House Democrats’ Black Caucus, sent a letter to the governor asking him to extend the moratorium.

Taylor also wants to see the moratorium lifted in counties who are adequately prepared to dispense rent assistance and provide legal representation to tenants, “so that no families are homeless,” she said in a statement. “We’re at the two-yard line. Now is not the time for us to leave families without this crucial safety net.”

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington. Taylor said that by allowing the moratorium to expire, Washington would be taking a major step back in improving equity—something the Democratic legislature touted as a priority for the 2021 session.

King County Housing Justice Project Manager Edmund Witter told PubliCola that despite Caldier’s amendment, Gov. Inslee could extend the moratorium. (King County’s Housing Justice Project, which provide legal counsel to tenants, is one of several such groups across the state.) All the amendment did was say the current iteration of the moratorium must end on June 30; it did not limit the governor’s to extend the moratorium in response to the pandemic emergency, Witter said.

However, the governor’s emergency powers run out on June 30, when the official state of emergency ends, creating a hard deadline for Inslee to make a decision. Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said the governor’s office has not decided yet whether to extend the moratorium.

If the moratorium does end on June 30, Witter is concerned that Washington’s courts will be overwhelmed with eviction cases. “There’s just no plan,” for how courts will deal with cases, Witter said.

“If a tenant doesn’t know whether or not they’re going to get rental assistance, how are they going to know what terms are reasonable to a repayment plan that they’re going to sign onto?How would they know whether or not what they’re signing onto is something they can afford?”—Michele Thomas, Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance

Ideally, eviction cases could be resolved without getting courts involved at all. SB 5160 establishes Eviction Resolution Programs (ERPs) in six counties (Clark, King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane), using dispute resolution centers to settle landlord-tenant disputes. These programs work by having landlords, tenants, and their lawyers meet with an eviction resolution specialist to reach an agreement to prevent eviction, such as a more forgiving rent repayment plan.

Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) worked on the eviction protection bills during the session. She said many of the tenant protections the legislature passed this year included emergency clauses that put them into effect immediately, including mandatory repayment plans and the just cause eviction bill. (The latter still allows landlords to evict tenants for failing to pay their rent, but requires them to offer tenants a repayment plan 14 days before serving them an eviction notice.)

However, she’s still worried that when the moratorium ends, there won’t be enough attorneys ready to represent tenants in eviction cases and courts won’t have the tools to settle disputes without going to trial.

“We need to make sure that we set up the mediation support for landlords and tenants [and that] we hire those attorneys. A lot of that is not authorized until the state budget goes into effect July 1,” Macri said. Continue reading “Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk”

Pandemic Renter Protections on the Line in State Senate

Image via Nicole Macri’s campaign page.

By Leo Brine

UPDATE: House Bill 1236 passed the House Thursday on a mostly party-line vote of 28-21, without the three Republican amendments. The version that passed was a substitute, or striker, by moderate Democratic Senator Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah).

Senator Patty Kuderer (D-48, Bellevue) told PubliCola that Sen. Mullet’s striker amendment was necessary to get the bill passed and did not damage the overall integrity of the bill. The amendment didn’t alter the list of 16 reasons a landlord could give for evicting a tenant.

The bill, Kuderer said, “will ensure we transition away from the eviction moratorium using an off-ramp and not a cliff.”

ORIGINAL POST:

A bill that would bring an end to no-cause evictions in Washington (HB 1236) had a confusing day on the Senate floor on Monday. Republicans managed to get three amendments added to the bill, stripping away its protections for tenants facing no-cause evictions and exempting small rental properties from the bill entirely, before it was eventually taken off the floor.

An updated version of the bill is heading to a senate floor vote today.

The legislation lists 16 possible causes for a landlord to evict a tenant. “They’re very expansive,” Representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle), the bill’s primary sponsor, said. “You just need to give a tenant a reason when you ask them to move out.” The causes range from tenants not paying rent, to tenants registering as sex offenders during their tenancy, to the landlord having a “legitimate economic or business reason” for the eviction.

Macri said the bill was informed by various just cause eviction laws and ordinances including the city of Seattle’s, as well as newer ordinances such as Federal Way’s and Auburn’s.

When the bill was introduced on the Senate floor, Republicans introduced three amendments, which all passed the majority-Democratic chamber. Because of the large number of bills the legislature debates at the end of the session, committee chairs and bill sponsors generally caucus with their party members on each amendment, enabling legislators to vote without keeping track of every single amendment. Senator Patty Kuderer (D-48, Bellevue) is the chair of the Senate Housing and Local Government committee and was in charge of informing her colleagues how to vote on the amendments.

“Without just cause [protections], there’s a huge loophole in how pandemic related rent assistance would work. You would just assist landlords in protecting their financial investments”—by paying them back rent—”but it would do nothing to protect housing stability.”—State Rep. Nicole Macri

Senator Marko Liias (D-21, Everett) told PubliCola in a text message that senators discussed all the amendments in caucus, “but with the volume of bills we are debating and the volume of amendments, things can get mixed up.” He said his colleagues would not have voted for the amendments they passed on Monday had they known what they were.

Liias asked for the bill to be taken off the floor, but not before Republicans managed to pass three amendments, including two that were substantive. Senator Chris Gildon (R-25, Puyallup) added an amendment giving landlords the right to evict tenants with “fixed-term leases”—those that do not renew or convert to month-to-month leases after the lease ends— without cause at the end of their lease. Senator Judy Warnick (R-13, Moses Lake) added an amendment that allows landlords to issue no-cause evictions to tenants living in properties with four dwelling units or fewer.

Democrats are trying to forestall a wave of evictions after the state’s eviction moratorium ends on June 30. The House Democrats’ budget proposal includes more than $1 billion for rental assistance to pay back landlords for rent debt that tenants have accrued during the moratorium.

Macri said she has been fighting with Republicans in order to get tenant protection bills passed, but they continue to propose amendments to limit and narrow those protections. She said one reason some lawmakers are not interested in passing comprehensive tenant protection bills is “because many lawmakers have personal experience as small-time landlords.” Lawmakers tend to personalize the policies in the bills because of their landlord experiences, using personal anecdotes to substantiate their opinions that tenant protection bills are harmful,  Macri said.

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If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Warnick’s amendment to exempt small rental properties from the bill would be devastating to renters outside cities, Macri said, because “basically nobody in rural Washington would have protection.” Outside of major metropolitan areas along the I-5 corridor, she said, rental properties tend to be smaller—more like houses that have been converted to apartments. Even in Seattle, there are more than 26,000 properties with four dwelling units or fewer, according to Edmund Witter at the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, while there are fewer than 5,000 properties with five units or more.

Gildon’s amendment eliminating protections for people on six-month fixed-term leases is a more far-reaching than moderate Democratic Senator Mark Mullet’s (D-5, Issaquah) striker amendment, which would preserve protections for people on fixed-term leases shorter than 12 months. Mullet worked groups representing housing providers and landlords to negotiate a striker amendment (which incorporates multiple amendments into a single proposal) that waters down the effects of the bill in some of the same ways the Republicans’ amendments passed on Monday did. Continue reading “Pandemic Renter Protections on the Line in State Senate”