Inslee details eviction ‘bridge’ to help landlords, tenants through September

Debbie Cockrell

The News Tribune

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday offered more details on the state’s “bridge” transition from the current eviction moratorium, set to expire at the end of June.

In remarks released ahead of Thursday’s briefing, Inslee said his proclamation will help ease Washington “from the eviction moratorium to the housing stability programs put in place by the Legislature.”

“And that includes access to the additional money — hundreds of millions of dollars — that was made available by the federal government and appropriated for rental assistance by the state Legislature to help landlords and tenants,” Inslee said.

The bridge starts July 1 and runs through Sept. 30.

Inslee noted: “To be clear: This is not an extension of my existing moratorium. There are some new provisions in this and is different than what has been in place for more than a year.”

According to the governor’s office, more than $650 million in federal funds have been appropriated to help renters, but most of that money is not yet available until the programs are in place.

That funding is in addition to $500 million already released by the Department of Commerce to local government for rental assistance.

Eviction legislation

The initial temporary eviction moratorium was first put in place early in the pandemic, March 2020. It has since been extended multiple times.

The Legislature passed Senate Bill 5160, which includes measures that provide tenant protections and programs designed to address the impact of COVID on landlords and tenants.

Programs included in that measure are not yet up and running, including eviction resolution pilot programs and the right to counsel program for indigent tenants, leading to the latest “bridge” plan to help until the funding and programs are in place.

Highlights of the bridge proclamation, in details released Thursday by the governor’s office:

■ For past rent due from Feb. 29, 2020, through July 31, 2021, landlords are prohibited from evicting a tenant until there is an operational rental assistance program and eviction resolution program in place in their county.

■ In addition, for past rent owed, landlords are prohibited from treating any unpaid rent or other charges as an enforceable debt until the landlord and tenant have been provided with an opportunity to resolve nonpayment of rent through an eviction resolution pilot program.

■ Starting Aug. 1, renters are expected to pay full rent or pay less if they negotiate that with their landlord or actively seek rental assistance funding. If a renter is taking any of those actions, a landlord cannot evict that tenant. However, if a tenant is not paying or isn’t trying to obtain rental assistance from the appropriated funds, a landlord can take any action allowed by law, but also offer the tenant a reasonable repayment plan before starting the eviction process.

■ Tenants must also be provided, in writing, services and support available to them.

■ Certain types of housing also will be removed from the order altogether, including hotels/motels, Air BnBs, long-term care facilities, and other nontraditional housing.

During Thursday’s briefing, officials acknowledged that the bridge plan does not prohibit rent increases. However, “That is something that was put out in staffing for the rental assistance dollars, and the states’ and federal assistance that would come with those rental assistance dollars, but is not in the bridge strategy itself,” said Jim Baumgart, a senior policy adviser to Inslee, during the Thursday briefing.

The full proclamation and details of the program will be released in the coming days, according to the governor’s office.