The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has created a hardship for both landlords and tenants throughout Washington state—not to mention the entire nation. To help ease the burden for tenants and provide them with housing security, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide moratorium on evictions that has been extended several times.
Inslee first proclaimed the moratorium in mid-March, extending and expanding the legislation in mid-April. Most recently, the moratorium was extended on June 4 for an additional 60 days, or at least through Aug. 4.
What is an Eviction Moratorium?
An eviction moratorium simply prohibits landlords from evicting their tenants for nonpayment of rent for the duration of the moratorium. You can still evict tenants if the action is required to protect other tenants or to prevent destruction of your property. In the case of Washington, the eviction moratorium also prevents you from raising rents at your properties and assessing late fees and other charges. Additionally, property damage only applies to problems that are urgent in nature and does not include conditions you were aware of prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Along with the statewide moratorium, Seattle City Council has enacted their own coronavirus-related moratorium to provide residential tenants with a defense against rent-related evictions. The council voted in May to continue the moratorium on residential evictions through Dec. 4 by adding a special section to a city law that outlines the conditions and circumstances under which evictions are permissible.
In short, the legislation provides a defense that tenants may use in court if they are evicted based on a failure to pay rent. That doesn’t stop tenants from incurring debt during the six-month period when the bill is expected to be in place. Tenants citing the bill also have to certify in court that they have suffered financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
Modifications in Washington’s Moratorium Extension
The latest extension of the eviction moratorium for Washington state also makes modifications to the original legislation, which include:
- Prohibiting retaliation against a tenant for invoking rights or protections under the proclamation
- Allowing you to evict tenants if you plan to occupy or sell the property, as long as you provide at least 60 days’ notice
- Exempting commercial property rent increases that were executed in a rental agreement prior to the date the state of emergency was declared (Feb. 29)
- Establishing a defense to any lawsuit for tenants if you fail to offer a reasonable repayment plan
Even after the moratorium is lifted—which could be Aug. 4, or later if the legislation is further extended—you can’t evict a tenant unless you can prove to the judge that you’ve made diligent attempts to work out a fair and realistic payment plan with your tenant.
As of the time of this publication, the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association has concisely summarized the state and local Eviction Moratorium timelines as follows:
Tips for Dealing with a Moratorium Eviction
Ultimately, Washington state's moratorium eviction is about encouraging you and your tenants to “communicate in good faith” and to work together on the timing and terms of payment and repayment solutions. With that in mind, here are couple tips to consider while the legislation is in place:
1. Communicate Constantly with Your Tenants
For the most part, it’s in your best interest and that of your tenants for them to remain in their long-term housing, especially since turnover is costly for landlords in Seattle. Let your tenants know you and your property manager are aware of the situation and willing to work with them during this unprecedented time. Find out if they are facing hardship because of the pandemic and try to collaborate on a solution that works for both of you. In some cases, your tenant may be able to pay a portion of their rent each month and then settle the remainder once they’re back to work.
2. Refer Tenants to Rental Assistance
There are numerous sources for rental assistance available to tenants in the Seattle area. Some of these rental assistance programs include the King County Housing Stability Project, Catholic Community Services, Friends of Youth, United Way, and Hopelink. The Seattle Housing Authority has information about others as well. Reach out to your tenants with this information so they are aware of their options.
3. Be Diligent with Tenant Screenings
It’s always important for your Seattle property manager to be careful and meticulous when vetting prospective tenants. However, during this time, while the eviction moratorium is in place, you especially don’t want to get stuck with a problematic tenant. Make sure you’re not cutting corners just to get your properties filled. Taking time to thoroughly screen candidates and get the right people as renters can save you time and money down the road.
4. Find a Property Manager You Can Trust
One of the most valuable ways your property manager can be of assistance is through their extensive knowledge of the intricacies of local, state, and national laws regarding housing and tenant-landlord responsibilities. With uncertainty and change clouding the horizon, it’s important you are partnered with a Seattle property manager that stays up to date on recent legislation and understands how it affects you and your properties.
Powell Property Management has been serving the South Puget Sound area for decades. Whether you’re facing issues related to COVID-19 or simply desire a property manager you can trust and depend on, our team at Powell can assist you with a wide range of commercial and residential management services that can be tailored to your needs.
“Seattle to provide eviction protection for 6 months after coronavirus moratorium expires.” The Seattle Times. Accessed online at https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-to-provide-eviction-protection-for-6-months-after-coronavirus-moratorium-expires/
“Inslee extends eviction moratorium.” Governor’s Office website. Accessed online at https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-extends-eviction-moratorium