Inslee Announces Relief Efforts for Effects of COVID-19 Response

Leaders chime in remotely as Gov. Jay Inslee gives a statement last week. 

OLYMPIA — Tenants and landlords are questioning what will happen when a statewide moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent ends.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the 30-day moratorium on March 18. He may extend it for another month. And he can keep doing that as long as his declaration of an emergency is in effect because of the coronavirus outbreak.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, Inslee has ordered the closure or partial shut down of businesses. For those who have lost their jobs, the hope is they won't miss rent payments because they can collect unemployment, or find another job, or return to the job they were laid off from.

There also is potential for direct payments from the federal government. The bill that the U.S. Senate approved late Wednesday would expand unemployment benefits and provide $1,200 checks to Americans who earn less than $75,000 a year. The payment would be gradually phased out for income above that. People who earn more than $99,000 would not qualify, The Washington Post reported.

But as the uncertainty about the length and depth of the coronavirus crisis continues, tenants and landlords are questioning what will happen if they amass debts.

An Olympia area resident recently inquired on Nextdoor, the neighborhood social media site, whether the eviction moratorium will accomplish anything, using a hypothetical example if it ends after 30 or 60 days.

"Tenants still owe rent for the 30 or 60 days they were unable to pay. So they now have to come up with two or four months' rent. If they can't, the landlord can evict them. So they're back to where they started," the person posted.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington is calling on government officials to provide funds for rental assistance programs to "support renters in need -- before they miss a rent payment and fall into debt."

Tacoma resident Brenton Nichol was temporarily laid off last week from his job at the E9 Brewing Co. He is now collecting unemployment benefits under a program that businesses use when they lay off people they intend to bring back.

Still, the cost of his rental housing is a looming concern, he said.

"I can cover this month easily enough. It's next month that I'm worried about. That's when I'm going to be really in that slump of getting half my pay," Nichol said.

Curt Bidwell, a landlord with several properties in Thurston and Mason counties, said he hopes that Inslee has a comprehensive answer for landlords and tenants.

Landlords should have set aside funds for "unforeseen circumstances," but Bidwell said COVID-19 goes beyond the scenarios that landlords can anticipate facing.

"Small, independent landlords who don't have deep reserves are either going to lose their houses -- which, of course, is going to put bigger pressure on the housing market -- or the governor is going to have to make sure landlords are cared for right up the chain," he said.

He said some of his tenants who work in catering have been out of work for about a month because events have been canceled to comply with the state ban on gatherings. But Bidwell said he has not had any residential tenants inform him yet that they can't pay rent due next month.

"We're very concerned about where this is going to be if this (outbreak) goes into April, and we're looking at May and June," he said.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington has requested a delay in the payment of property taxes to allow housing providers to help tenants. Also, the group wants a delay in mortgage payment due dates for landlords that last "as long as eviction moratoriums to assist owners of homes and apartments where tenants are unable to cover the cost of rent."

Reached for comment, Inslee spokesman Mike Faulk said in an email: "The governor, staff and cabinet continue to explore ideas and keep the economic needs of Washingtonians in mind while we focus on public health needs as well."

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