The pandemic initially forced people to stay in their apartments and homes. Many businesses were locked down – except for those that provided essential services. It simply wasn’t possible to go to work which meant that people didn’t have an income. In response to the people’s inability to earn a living, the federal government and Washington state authorized eviction moratoriums. The moratoriums started in 2020 and were extended until 2021.
Now, with approved vaccines for everyone 12 years and older, the economy is opening up. Employees and contractors are able to drive or take public transportation to work. Many people are enjoying the luxury of working from home. With the opening up of the economy, questions are being raised about whether the eviction moratoriums should continue.
A recent op-ed published by the Editorial staff of The Columbian argued that it is time to end Washington’s eviction moratorium.
The case to end the moratorium
The paper argues that the pendulum of fairness has shifted towards landlords who are losing rental payments that they may never recover if tenants can continue avoiding paying their rent. The writer states that while they empathize with struggling households, landlords have bills to pay, too. Many small mom-and-pop landlords (a large percentage of landlords statewide) have needs, too. They need the income they get from rentals to pay their own bills.
As the rental bills go unpaid because of COVID, landlords find themselves without any remedy for collecting their rents or opening up their rental units to paying tenants. For this reason, many smaller landlords are leaving the industry by selling their properties to corporations – who, again, will likely increase the rates as soon as they can.
The Columbian understands how devastating the pandemic has been on the apartment and housing industry. They argue that the 19-month grace period is long enough. There are jobs for people who do want to work and pay their rent. They add that landlords need the relief that allowing the moratorium to expire will bring – while continuing efforts are made to release the available rental assistance.
The case to extend the moratorium
The Columbian states that, according to a US Census Bureau survey, nearly 57,000 Washington State households are not paying their rent. Another 147,000 have “no confidence” they can pay next month’s rent. Approximately 50,000 households said the prospect of being evicted in the next two months is somewhat likely or very likely. The program manager for Clark County’s community services said, “The need that is out there is clearly real, and people are in crisis.” Many cities in the Northwest are already dealing with a worsening homeliness crisis – a crisis that is likely to worsen during the winter months as temperatures drop. CNET states that more than 11 million renters are behind on their rent and nearly 3.6 million households nationwide could face evictions.
How a good idea based in good intentions all went so wrong
The Washington State moratorium started 19 months ago – March 2020. The US government authorized its own moratorium prohibiting evictions for people who didn’t pay their rate. The federal moratorium has since expired. During the pandemic, limited evictions were permitted for tenants who were involved in criminal activity or “nefarious” behavior.
Part of the problem is that the relief that was supposed to help renters has not developed as it should. Nearly $1.1 billion in federal and state rental assistance is available. Of that sum, only about $220 million has been used, through the end of July 2021 for rental aid, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. Only 10 of Washington’s 39 counties have spent more than a quarter of the available funds. A third of the counties have not even spent 10% of the available rental aid funds.
Governor Inslee did extend the moratorium through October. He said, “This brief extension will help ensure that no one is evicted while large amounts of rental assistance funding are still available but unused.” He encouraged local governments in Washington to find ways to distribute the rental assistance money.
If you need help with rental assistance, you can find a list of local housing providers here. If you are a landlord seeking assistance, you can seek assistance through the Landlord Covid Relief Program.
Philbrook Law Office provides legal services throughout Washington State. To learn more about your options, please call 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment at our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground. We’ll explain your current landlord/tenant rights.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.