What are the Governor’s changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Law?
The government of the State of Washington and Governor Inslee have repeatedly taken unprecedented legal and economic action to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and those actions have specific impacts on landlords and tenants.
Initially, the Governor placed a temporary moratorium on evictions based on non-payment of rent. On March 18, Governor Inslee ordered that “residential landlords are prohibited from serving a notice of unlawful detainer for default payment or rent,” and prohibited “issuing a 20-day notice . . . related to such property” as well. That initial order was scheduled to expire on April 17th.
However, on April 16, 2020, Governor Inslee renewed and expanded that moratorium, prohibiting a vast array of actions landlords ordinarily rely to enforce a tenant’s compliance with the terms of a their rental agreements.
Did the Governor re-write RCW 59.18?
Do the Governor’s Actions Violate Separation of Powers?
The following actions are prohibited until June 4, 2020 under the expanded order:
- Serving, or threatening to serve, ANY eviction notice. This includes not only demands for rent payment, but termination notices (20 day notices) and notices demanding compliance with contract terms (10 day comply or vacate notices);
- Assessing late fees for any late rent payment after February 29, 2020;
- Assessing any rent if the tenant’s access to the property was prevented by the COVID-19 outbreak;
- Collecting unpaid rent as an enforceable debt, for any unpaid rent after February 29, unless the Landlord offers a re-payment plan that is reasonable based on the Tenant’s financial, health, and other circumstances; and
- Increasing rent, for any residential AND commercial property.
However, there is one major caveat that all landlords must keep in mind: they are allowed, and expected, to address any tenant actions that pose a significant and immediate risk to the health and safety of others, even if that means threatening eviction. What constitutes “significant and immediate risk” is undefined, but will be based on the facts and circumstances of each particular case.
The order additionally states that this is not intended to be rent abatement for tenants. Governor states in the order: “I strongly encourage every tenant to pay what they can, as soon as they can, to help support the landlords, property owners, and property managers who are supporting them through this crisis.”
What this means for landlords in the short term is that they are barred from taking any action, or even threatening to take an action that would begin the eviction process for any residential tenant. This includes non-payment of course, but also bars landlords from addressing violations of other terms of their rental contracts.
In uncertain times like these, with proclamations and orders being issued on a nearly daily basis, it is imperative that landlords, and tenants, rely on the advice of knowledgeable Landlord/Tenant attorneys.
If you have questions about the eviction process, or the emergency orders, call the attorneys at Althauser Rayan Abbarno in Centralia or Olympia at (360) 736-1301.