Tenants, property owners seek legislative edge before evictions resume

A U.S. District Court judge in Ohio ruled Thursday against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stating the agency overstepped its authority when it issued a nationwide eviction moratorium earlier during the ongoing pandemic.

The judgement comes only weeks after another federal judge in Texas decided the moratorium was unconstitutional. The U.S. Justice Department has appealed that ruling. 

Washington state’s eviction moratorium is scheduled to end in less than three weeks, as lawmakers in Olympia debate multiple bills meant to protect both renters and property owners alike.

Legislators are trying to balance what landlords need to stay in business, while ensuring thousands of families are not forced onto the streets.

"Two weeks ago my family had to move out of the house we lived in for years," Dominique Horn said as she spoke to lawmakers through her home computer. 

The mother was just one of many to testify during the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee hearing after HB 1236 advanced earlier this week.  

The bill intends to change current law allowing landlords to end a month-to-month lease with only 20-day notice, regardless of reason, said legislators. Horn believes her ex-landlord used the law to force her family to vacate their Vancouver, Washington, rental. Her children live with her in spare space offered by extended family far from Clark County.

"It’s just so easy to fall out of being stably housed," she said.

Opponents of the bill worried it could make removing difficult renters even more challenging. 

"We have to have a way for tenancy to expire," said Jennifer Lekisch, who told lawmakers several tenants currently live in multiple properties she owns.

Property manager Chelsy Parrish asked lawmakers to consider what could happen to property owners who may decide to no longer own multiple domiciles because of the proposed changes.

"It would lead to more and more small operators leaving the market," said Parrish, who warned disruptive renters can create hostile living environments.

"Once the eviction moratorium ends we will have a massive surge of homelessness," said Michele Thomas from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Thomas said more than 130,000 renters across the state are behind in bills, and more than half of those households include children.

Legislators are also debating SB 5160, which could help landlords if their tenants were short income in 2020. The bill could also ensure renters facing eviction have access to legal representation during court proceedings.

In Seattle, the City Council offered multiple pieces of legislation to protect struggling tenants, but labor unions and other advocates urged Mayor Jenny Durkan to extend the moratorium through 2021.

Billions from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package could help, but families struggling to make up late rent payments worry an eviction could be inevitable.

Thomas worries if the current proposals are enough protection for vulnerable families.

"I don’t think the legislature understands the urgency," she said. "They think it’s business as usual."

Lawmakers have yet to advance ESHB 1236 from the committee to hearings on the Senate floor.

Horn says the experience has left her in debt, and applying for new housing options is expensive. She and her two children now live in an area less populated and farther away from the home they once made in Clark County.

Vancouver City Councilman Ty Stober testified during Thursday's Senate hearing. He told Q13 News housing affordability has grown into a crisis requiring attention beyond city, county and regional boundaries.

"We need a nationwide rethinking of how we are approaching housing," he said.