OLYMPIA – A bill that would create new eviction protections for renters and expand programs to help landlords recover losses from unpaid rent as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis was approved by the Senate by a vote of 29-20 on Thursday. [TVW Link]
Senate Bill 5160, sponsored by Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue), aims to significantly reduce the number of immediate evictions that are expected if the governor’s moratorium is lifted without legislative action. The current eviction moratorium is scheduled to expire on March 31.
“The ultimate goals of this policy…are twofold: they are to keep tenants housed and to help landlords pay their bills,” said Kuderer.
Included in SB 5160 are several new tenant protections related to the current public health emergency, including:
- Prohibiting housing decisions that affect a tenant’s right or ability to occupy a rental dwelling from taking into account a tenant’s nonpayment of rent that accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic,
- Prohibiting landlords from imposing late fees or other charges for nonpayment of rent during the public health emergency, and
- Prohibiting landlords from denying or discouraging rental applications based on medical history. This provision is in response to some landlords’ rejecting rental applications on the basis of the applicant having contracted or been exposed to COVID-19.
To help struggling landlords, SB 5160 would allow them to apply directly to certain rental assistance programs. The bill also expands use of the Landlord Mitigation Program to reimburse claims for unpaid rent up to $5,000 to recover rental arrears accrued during the public health emergency when certain tenants vacate or abandon tenancy and default on a repayment plan.
The bill also expands the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program statewide on a two-year basis.
Other provisions in the bill include:
- A requirement that landlords offer a repayment plan for missed rent during the current public health emergency before seeking an eviction.
- Expanded use of dispute resolution centers, which can be used to successfully resolve disputes between landlords and tenants before they go to court.
- A new right to counsel to help indigent tenants navigate the legal process.
“When we save someone from falling into homelessness…we actually save the taxpayers a lot of money,” said Kuderer. “And so we get a really good bang for the buck with this investment.”
Passage of SB 5160 by the Senate comes after $110 million of federal CARES Act funds were appropriated for the Eviction Rent Assistance Program. The Legislature has also appropriated $43.5 million from state disaster relief funds, and the Biden Administration’s COVID relief package currently being debated contains another $510 million of flexible federal and state dollars that Washington will receive to help struggling renters and landlords.
HB 1368 also included $2 million for lower-income small landlords to address rental and utility arrears through the Limited Landlord Relief Program.
SB 5160 will now go to the House of Representatives for consideration. It has until April 11 to be approved by the House to be eligible to become law this year.
The 2021 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 25.
***Correction: An earlier version of this release stated the $110 million for the ERAP was appropriated by the Legislature. Those funds did not require a legislative appropriation.
The Appeal Live: Sen. Kuderer discusses the importance of right to counsel policies.
The Impact (TVW): Sen. Kuderer discusses tenant protections and landlord assistance.
- As of February 15, approximately 10% (134,994 households) are not current on rent payments
- Over 200,000 respondents reported slight or no confidence to pay next month’s rent
- Of those unable to make rent:
- 7% of Hispanic or Latino renters
- 9% of White renters
- 13% of Black renters
- 20% of Asian renters
- 68% of behind household have children under 18.
- (Source: Census Bureau Pulse Survey. February 2021)
- Department of Commerce estimates one month of unpaid rent is approximately $100 million.