Washington Attorney General directs company to stop eviction notices during COVID-19 pandemic

TACOMA -- People who can’t afford their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic are receiving eviction notices from their landlords. But state officials say those notices are illegal under Washington’s eviction moratorium.

On March 18th, Governor Jay Inslee issued a 30-day moratorium saying residential landlords cannot evict someone for their inability to pay rent during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General, said tenants at several properties owned by JRK Property Holdings are receiving the notices. JRK Property Holdings is based in Los Angeles. People at several of the company’s complexes, including Boulders at Puget Sound in Tacoma, said they can’t afford their bills right now.

Ferguson’s office sent a letter to the company and several of its property managers to cease and desist eviction notices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What they did frankly, fragrantly, violates Washington State law and is quite egregious from our perspective,” said Ferguson. “It’s very clear what the law is right now. The governor may extend that just like he may extend the stay home order.”

As of Wednesday, the attorney general’s office has received 439 complaints. The office has contacted 349 tenants and 195 landlords on the issue. Ferguson expects those numbers to increase.

“My team is on it. They’re literally working through weekends and late at night because there’s been such a huge influx of these potential cases,” said Ferguson.

Q13 News reached out to JRK Property Holdings for comment but did not receive immediate response. The attorney general said his office asked JRK Property Holdings to cancel all the notices. Ferguson said he also asked the company to provide proof showing residents were notified that the company will follow the eviction moratorium. The state said the company had until end of day April 15th to respond.

The attorney general said tenants who feel pressured by their landlords should contact his office. He said his office has a very large civil rights team working on the complaints. He even recruited members from other departments in his office to assist.

“We review every complaint that comes in, we respond to every complaint that comes in. We’ve already contacted hundreds of property management companies and landlords. We’ve contacted hundreds of tenants who have complained,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson said the state has not yet determined how payments and possible fees will be handled once the moratorium is lifted. For now, he said any landlord who violates the state law will be hearing from him.

“Everybody is struggling right now. But for a sophisticated company of this size and this magnitude to be pulling a stunt like this that’s so obviously illegal frankly really makes me upset and that’s why they’re hearing from my office,” said Ferguson.

Complaints can be filed on the attorney general’s website. The office also provides updated complaint numbers on its Twitter page.