In Our View: No Easy Fix for Evictions

Landlords, tenants both find themselves with few or no desirable options at times

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The depth of Clark County’s problems with a lack of affordable housing and homelessness has been detailed in a series of articles by Columbian reporter Patty Hastings. And while the series examined the issues facing low-income renters and landlords, it also demonstrated that solutions do not come easily.

In looking at the process surrounding evictions, the articles engender empathy for both people who struggle to pay their rent and those who manage rental properties. Last year, more than 1,100 eviction notices were filed in Clark County, and this year’s number is expected to be about the same.

That represents 1,100 families who often have homelessness as their only other option. It also represents 1,100 cases in which landlords have been left with no choice but to undertake the costly and time-consuming action of having people removed from their homes. While the public’s focus often is, understandably, upon residents who have been displaced, property managers also feel the impact of evictions. As Diane McWithey, executive director of homeless-services provider Share, said: “There are a lot of great landlords in our community who are working with us. They are making exceptions to their criteria, so our clients can fit in.”

This is much different from the situation in 2014 at Courtyard Village in central Vancouver, when new owners planned renovations and rent increases that resulted in residents at the 151-unit complex being given 20 days to vacate. Attention upon those actions provided some of the impetus that led to Vancouver voters approving a property-tax levy and the creation of an Affordable Housing Fund last year.

Typically, evictions result from a tenant’s failure to pay rent — whether the result of job loss or illness or other unexpected change in finances. Such for-cause evictions can leave renters with three days to vacate and often lead to court appearances and fines in addition to the burden of finding a new place to live. That is where the situation becomes difficult. Property owners need to pay for property taxes and utilities and maintenance; if they are not receiving the agreed-upon rent, they must have some recourse at their disposal.

In attempting to balance the needs of renters and landlords, the goal must be to help each side avoid evictions in the first place. One area of contention is a state law that took effect in June 2016 allowing tenants to seek an order preventing screening agencies from showing a prior eviction or using that eviction to calculate a rental score. Some landlords decry the law, but it is a reasonable protection for renters; the information is still available for landlords, but they must seek it out.

Meanwhile, it also is essential for tenants to be aware of the many avenues for temporary rent assistance or advocacy on their behalf in fighting eviction notices. Organizations ranging from the Salvation Army to Share to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul have programs that offer assistance. And many online services provide information regarding the rights of renters under Washington law.

Reducing the number of evictions in Clark County while still protecting the rights of landlords should be a community-wide goal. Evictions are costly to both tenants and property managers and create social costs that are damaging to all residents in the area. But with this region having an exceedingly low rate of apartment vacancies and with poverty remaining all too pervasive, solutions are not easy to come by.