Emergency Covid orders are ending. Where does that leave renters and landlords?
Covid emergency measures end Monday, Oct. 31, in both Seattle and Washington state. Those emergency orders include protections for tenants who fall behind on their rent. KUOW looked into what their expiration means for renters and their landlords.
During the Covid emergency, many layers of tenant protections were put in place – things like moratoriums. Those have been falling away, one at a time.
For example, the state of Washington and city of Seattle’s states of emergency included a requirement that landlords negotiate a payment plan with tenants who fall behind on rent. With the expiration of these emergency orders, that requirement will now end in six months.
But even with tenant protections falling away, we haven’t seen the wave of evictions that many predicted, says Edmund Witter of the King County Housing Justice Project.
“The overall number of filings is actually only about half the historical average,” he says.
Witter says the low number of evictions could be thanks to permanent statewide eviction reforms that will outlast the Covid emergency orders.
- In 2019, renters won the right to catch up on late payments. Being a day late or a dollar short is no longer a good reason to evict someone. Today, renters have 14 days to make good on a late payment, rather than three.
- In 2020, a law gave renters the right to get financial assistance from a government or nonprofit rent relief organization.
- In 2021, renters got the right to an attorney. And today, those attorneys have more to work with, as now landlords must have “just cause” (a good, legal reason) to evict someone. (Seattle already had a “just cause” law on the books.)
“It's a highly technical thing, that’s very process oriented,” Witter says, adding that for these reasons the big eviction reform bill of 2019 that started the ball rolling on statewide reform hasn't gotten much media attention. “But the impact is huge.”
He says if you watch the eviction hearings in King County every morning, you’ll see attorneys arguing on behalf of tenants and winning their cases.
Witter says we haven’t been able to see the effect of these new, permanent laws because of temporary, stronger laws like eviction moratoriums. The last eviction moratorium in the state of Washington is in Burien, and it, too, expires after Halloween.
Witter says the permanent protections are effective but could be strengthened more to close a few cracks that some tenants are slipping through.
“I mean, if you wanted to, you could stop like 90% of evictions if there was a statewide effort to actually coordinate this,” he says.
Witter says that would mean a statewide office that distributes rental assistance.
“And it’s not even that logistically hard," he says. "The tools are almost there.”
andlords say they’ve been financially damaged by some eviction reforms, but it’s too soon to know how much.
Ryan Makinster, director of government affairs for the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, says the right time to study the impact of eviction reforms would be six months to a year from now.
“We haven’t had an ability to do an economic study or a research or a look-back on some of these changes just because the fact is – it’s not over yet. Right?” Makinster says.
The rule ending in six months that requires landlords to negotiate a payment plan with tenants, for example, “is almost kicking the can down the road, right?”
Makinster says, after working out a payment plan, tenants would miss rent again two months later, “and we’d go back in that process again. So ultimately, it just delays money coming to the landlord without a resolution.”
“Anecdotally, I’ll tell you I know some providers right now that have individual units that are in arrears for over $30,000,” Makinster says. “So you can imagine, if you have a lot of units, that can be very detrimental for what you’re going to have to write off.”
He says many housing providers are raising rents now to try to offset some of their pandemic losses. With the expiration of the Covid emergency orders, he says landlords can now see “a little bit of light at the end.”
There is one thing this landlord representative agrees on with tenant advocates: It’s a good thing we haven’t seen a wave of evictions.
“We haven’t seen that,” Makinster says, “and I hope we don’t.”