Victory for landlords at the Washington Supreme Court!

Posted By: William Shadbolt WBPA News, WBPA Litigation,

Today in a unanimous ruling the Washington Supreme Court ruled that a landlord has the right to terminate an expiring lease under the CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium.

Antonia Nyman rented a backyard cottage to Dan Hanley with a lease that expired at the end of July 2020.  Per the lease terms, the tenancy did not convert to a month-to-month agreement upon expiration.  Prior to COVID, the tenant stopped paying rent and was served a 14-day pay or vacate notice.  Subsequently, the Governor issued the first moratorium, so Nyman gave a 60-day notice of her intent to move into the unit. As her family members had moved into her home due to COVID, she needed the additional space for their comfort and safety.

A superior court commissioner found in favor of the landlord.  The Housing Justice Project asked that the CDC order be narrowly construed to exclude "no fault" or "passive" violations, such as a lease expiring. However, in today's opinion, the court made it crystal clear: "Nothing in this Order precludes evictions based on a tenant, lessee, or resident: … (5) violating any other contractual obligation,  other than the timely payment of rent …”. 

To many in the industry, this was patently obvious from a plain reading the CDC order language. However, advocates of “Cancel Rent” and other tenants’ rights movements have extrapolated this language again and again to abuse the trust relationship formed between a tenant and a landlord, and formalized in their lease agreement, begging the question repeatedly, does violating the terms of a lease agreement fall outside the protection of the CDC order? Today’s decision bears on these abuses across the board.

While the Court was clear that the order and exceptions thereto should be applied on a case-by-case basis, Chief Justice Gonzales wrote:

"The question is whether holding over in the unit after the lease expired violated a contractual obligation, excluding Hanley from the protections of the CDC order. The trial court found that it did. We agree."

The State of Washington filed an amicus brief (friend of the court) supporting the tenant.  Eastside Legal Assistance Program plus 17 other organizations and individuals filed another amicus brief in support of the tenant. Our partners at the Rental Housing Association of WA filed an amicus brief in support of the landlord and assisted with the preparation of the hearing at the Supreme Court.