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As the Expiration of Eviction Moratorium Nears, Many Fear Resources, Courts Not Ready

Rebecca White/SPR

At the beginning of the pandemic, when the nation faced rampant unemployment, both landlord and tenant advocates predicted a tsunami of housing issues would overwhelm the courts, homeless, and housing services.

Those advocates are hoping that millions in rental assistance and several tenant laws that go into effect this summer in Washington could resolve that anticipated wave of evictions. But many fear that help won’t be ready in time.

Washington’s eviction moratorium is set to expire June 30, the same day the state’s economy is set to re-open.

“We’re not ready. We don’t have enough people back to work. Their employment isn’t stable to sustain the repayment on top of their rent, and the rent increases we anticipate.”

That’s Terri Anderson, the executive director of the Spokane branch of the Tenants Union of Washington state. She said several new laws will help, including a just cause eviction law. But she says many tenants may not have had a chance to apply for the most recent round of rental assistance and they  may not realize they now have these legal protections, especially if they’re not represented by a lawyer.

“Yes, I think the laws have some built in protections, but not if we just do it abruptly like this. That’s why there’s such a need to delay this for a while, so we can get everything in place so those resources are here. I think that’s how it's designed, so we should give it the time it needs to make it work.”

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said he is concerned about the approaching expiration of the eviction moratorium and has approached the governor about extending it.

“It would be sad if we went through all the trouble to do all of this, but just because for a few weeks, we couldn’t get the money out in time, the courts were flooded.”

Beggs said in the past Governor Jay Inslee has acted just before the moratorium expires. There's no guarantee of that this time and Beggs says the city could provide a backup plan. 

“If the governor doesn’t do something, and there's an important gap to fill, I will consider doing that, but I’m one vote out of seven.”

Steve Corker, the president of the Landlords’ Association of the Inland Northwest, said the new eviction legislation has caused confusion for landlords. Corker says landlords are in a difficult situation. 

“I’m not worried about massive evictions, I’m worried about the process being extended to the point where it creates what I call a second phase, defunding landlords.”

He says the delays, and lengthy court process they could be facing next month, could prolong their ability to collect money from tenants, squeezing an already difficult housing market even more.

Julie Griffith is the executive director of the Spokane County Bar Association. She says her expectations of what could happen when the eviction moratorium expires has evolved as more tenant legislation has gone into effect. She anticipates a spike, and then a long, sustained increase of eviction related issues that the court and mediators will handle, roughly about 2,500 a month.

“I think we initially are going to be hit pretty hard by the landlords that don’t understand all the changes. They will attempt to file eviction paperwork, but the courts will most likely reject it, because it does have to go through quite a process now.”

She said the organization is already under a heavy load with contract and volunteer lawyers, and is trying to hire two full time lawyers to handle the influx she anticipates will start once the moratorium ends.

“This month we’re going to see this big uptick in clients seeking services, it’s amazing how much the phones have already started ringing.”

The state is launching a program to provide lawyers to low-income tenants, but that program may not be ready until the end of the year, says Jim Bamberger, the director of the Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid.

That office is responsible for rolling out the program, and Bamberger says he hopes to have it up and going across the state by October, fully operational by January.

“The legislation also gives us one year to fully implement this program, well tenants don’t have one year to wait, so we are really aggressively moving to implement the program as quickly as we can.”

He notes that several counties, including Spokane, King, Thurston, Pierce, Clark and Snohomish have some form of eviction resolution programs in place now, but said they’re already in high demand.

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