WBPA Challenging Governor’s Eviction Ban, Demand Small Housing Providers be Compensated for Services

WBPA News ,

Today, the Washington Business Properties Association (WBPA) is taking another step forward with small housing providers who are challenging Governor Inslee’s unfair and unlawful statewide eviction moratorium in Lewis County State Superior Court. The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief of the ban, which for months has cost them their livelihoods.

To be clear: evicting tenants is a last resort for housing providers. That is not what this case is about. Rather, the WBPA is supporting the plaintiffs’ challenge to the statewide eviction moratorium on the following grounds:

  • The Governor has forced housing providers to support tenants through ”free” rent without providing financial relief for housing providers, who must still pay taxes, mortgages and maintenance costs and try to support their families‎.
  • Housing providers are prohibited from evicting or seeking repayment from tenants, including tenants that aren’t suffering any financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
  • The Governor’s order doesn’t require tenants to prove they have suffered financial hardship and allows tenants to silently ignore good faith attempts to work with them.
  • The Governor’s order bars access to the courts for housing providers to seek repayment from tenants who are behind on rent, or from renters who simply refuse pay, once the order is lifted.
  • The eviction moratorium was adopted without statutory authority and extended repeatedly by the Governor without the consent of the Washington state legislature.

No one group or individual alone can bear all of the costs and burden brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet that is what is being asked of small housing providers. The Governor’s order was hastily adopted and needlessly extended, giving a “free ride” to tenants who can pay but choose not to as well as to tenants engaging in criminal and nuisance behavior or causing property damage. Small housing providers are suffering greatly, so the WBPA has decided to take action.

Read the full court filing here.

Meet the Plaintiffs

Susan and Daniel Horwath

Sue and Dan Horwath entered the rental housing market in the 1990’s and own several rental homes across Lewis County. They take pride in providing well-kept homes, and they rely on the rental income to support their well-earned retirement.  

When the pandemic hit Washington in March 2020, they made it a priority to inform every single one of their residents that they would work with them on a repayment plan if they fell on hard times due to unemployment. Despite their efforts, Sue and Dan have a tenant who has used the Governor’s order as legal cover to skip paying rent. Additionally, the resident has also refused to pay electric bills, which could allow the utility company to place a lien on Sue and Dan’s property. Unfortunately, the Governor’s order bars the Horwath’s from accessing the courts to seek repayment.

Despite repeated efforts to communicate a repayment option with this tenant, as well as outreach to their state lawmakers to seek guidance and assistance, Sue and Dan are now without tens of thousands of dollars in rental payments owed to them. 

 

Susan and Gene Gonzales

Susan Gonzales and her husband, Gene, have owned several properties across Lewis County for the past twenty years to help support their future retirement.

To say the past year has been difficult for Susan and Gene would be an understatement. Since the pandemic struck in March, Susan lost her job as a middle school math and science teacher, requiring her to take on three jobs to help support her family. Adding insult to injury, the Governor’s ban has prompted several of her tenants to tell her that they refuse to pay rent as long as the order is in effect. Knowing that Susan cannot evict them, one tenant damaged her rental property so badly that she’s unsure how she’ll ever afford to fix it.

Today, Susan and Gene are sitting on tens of thousands of dollars in debt as a result of non-paying renters. They are still paying the taxes, mortgages, maintenance and utility costs on their properties. While Susan and Gene plan to do whatever it takes to continue supporting their family, even if it means working additional jobs, they worry that there isn’t much they can do to recoup the rental income they planned on using for retirement. 

 

Washington Landlord Association

The Washington Landlord Association (WLA) is the oldest association of its kind and works in collaboration with other similar associations in Washington state. For the past 50 years, the organization has been committed to advocating on behalf of over 5,000 individual housing providers statewide, as well as providing members access to courses, legal advice, and resources to help effectively manage their rental properties.

When the pandemic struck earlier this year, the WLA provided courses and other resources to help educate their members on setting up repayment plans with renters impacted financially by the pandemic. At first, these resources were helpful. But as the pandemic and Governor’s order dragged on, it became clear that the WLA’s members were struggling with renters who could no longer keep up with repayment plans. They also struggled with tenants who were using the Governor’s order as legal cover to forego rental payments – despite having the employment income to support it – as well to engage in property damage and other criminal and nuisance behavior knowing full well that their landlords couldn’t evict them.

As a result of the extended eviction moratorium, many of the WLA’s members have dried up their savings and are today facing the unfortunate scenario of bankruptcy or foreclosure. For some, this means losing their only source of income to help support their families and retirement.


What’s At Stake? 

Small housing providers account for nearly half of the rental housing supply in the United States, and rely on rental payments to cover their mortgages, taxes, and insurance. For many, it’s their single source of income. Unlike large banks or conglomerates, these individuals cannot weather the extended loss of revenue and do not qualify for mortgage forbearance. Without any avenue for relief and heaping debt, the Governor’s ban is unlawfully and unfairly shifting the entire burden of supporting those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic from the government – where it belongs – onto the backs of small housing providers.

Additionally, the Governor’s order is a short-term band aid that fails to address the underlying challenges with our current housing crisis. In fact, it’ll only make matters worse. For example, if housing providers file for foreclosure or bankruptcy, the banks take possession of their properties and force out current tenants before reselling it. Even if housing providers are able to keep their properties afloat once the pandemic and the order is lifted, it is likely they will be forced to increase rent and evict some of their tenants after losing out on over a year’s worth or more in payments.

While the WBPA and other housing advocates have made strides in bringing this issue to the public’s attention by filing a suit in federal court in October, we hope this additional action makes loud and clear to the Governor that the livelihoods of small rental housing providers are at stake. They simply cannot withstand this unlawful and unsustainable order without relief any further.  


About the Washington Business Properties Association (WBPA)

The WBPA is a broad coalition of businesses and professional associations committed to protecting, defending, and advocating for property rights across the commercial, residential, and retail real estate industries in Washington state.