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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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In Our View: Extending eviction moratorium wrong approach

The Columbian

Gov. Jay Inslee’s extension of a statewide eviction moratorium expands an overly broad policy and ignores legislation passed this year to balance the needs of renters and landlords.

Inslee last week stretched an existing moratorium through Sept. 30, avoiding a scheduled deadline of June 30. The moratorium was initially issued last year to help mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

An estimated 195,000 Washington renters are behind on payments, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, and state officials estimate those lax payments amount to more than $1 billion. Announcing the moratorium extension, Inslee said, “We don’t want to have success reopening our businesses, and then see a wave of homelessness.”

Indeed. But we also don’t want to see a wave of landlords being pushed out of the industry. The majority of the nation’s landlords are individual investors, rather than corporations that can more easily endure an economic downturn. Nationally, according to the Census Bureau, small landlords own about 23 million rental units.

“Each passing month further escalates the risk of losing an ever-increasing amount of rental housing, ultimately jeopardizing the availability of safe, sustainable and affordable housing for all Americans,” said Bob Pinnegar, CEO of the National Apartment Association. “Flawed eviction moratoriums leave renters with insurmountable debt and housing providers holding the bag as our nation’s housing affordability crisis spirals into a housing affordability disaster.”

In addition to Inslee’s moratorium decision, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the extension of a national moratorium from June 30 through the end of July. Officials say that will be the final extension, but states may issue their own guidelines.

From the beginning, Washington’s moratorium has been extensive. It prohibits evictions for any reason other than imminent threat to health and safety, active criminal activity, or if the landlord plans to sell or live in the property.

Other states have allowed for the eviction of tenants who cause property damage or have required that some payments be made. Others have worked to protect small property owners from foreclosure.

Senate Bill 5160, passed this year and signed by Inslee, designated June 30 for the end of Washington’s moratorium and established an updated eviction process. The bill was supported by all Democratic legislators from Clark County, plus Republican Rep. Paul Harris. Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said: “By unilaterally extending Washington’s eviction moratorium, Gov. Inslee is disregarding the bipartisan work that went into Senate Bill 5160 this session.”

That work included requiring landlords to offer payment plans, and it recognized the growing pressure on property owners who have seen fewer rental payments over the past 15 months. As one landlord told The Seattle Times: “I have no desire to ever throw out a tenant, but I don’t know what we’re going to do. We can’t have no income for that forever.”

Congress has passed $46 billion in emergency rental assistance in a pair of bills. But both renters and landlords report that such assistance has been slow in getting to the people who need it.

Washington lawmakers took that into consideration in providing a detailed plan for addressing a difficult situation that reverberates throughout the economy. Inslee should have paid attention rather than unilaterally changing the deadline.