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Working with Tenants in Rent Arrears

Posted By: Denise Myers Education , Law ,

Based on data from the May 26-June 7, 2021 Census Household Pulse Survey, 119,000 Washington State tenants have fallen behind on rent owing $3,500 on average or a total of over $420 million. HB 1368 allocated $365 million for counties to distribute rent relief and keep tenants in their homes. Unfortunately, most counties were not prepared to manage this monumental task when the moratorium ended on June 30, 2021. For this reason, the Governor issued a new “moratorium bridge” order to allow tenants to stay in their homes until their county is able to implement the Eviction Resolution Program (ERP) and distribute rental assistance funds as intended by SB 5160.

What is the new process and when can you take action for past due rent?

It depends on where your rental property lies. While you can get started with an initial payment plan offer, the full ERP process outlined below is on hold in each county until they have implemented operational programs for rental assistance and eviction resolution. Each county must provide attestation to program implementation to the State, and post attestations on their website.

 

WHAT

WHEN

Step 1

Offer a reasonable payment plan.

  • Each installment is no more than 1/3 rent
  • Allow 14 days to respond
  • First installment is due at least 30 days after the date of offer.

Payment plans can be offered at any time throughout Washington State.

Step 2

Serve ERP Notice available from WA State Courts, or specific county notice if available. The ERP notice includes information on available resource and how to get contact their county ERP and legal assistance.

  • Voluntary notice can be served at any time in pilot program counties (Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, and Thurston).
  • Mandatory notice must be served with 14-day pay or vacate notice after counties have given attestation of readiness.

Step 3

Serve 14-Day Pay or Vacate along with the Mandatory ERP Notice. If a payment plan offer was not made earlier, it should be included with service of the notices. The ERP notice must also be submitted by email or electronically per county requirements to the appropriate county program administrators.

Only after attestation or readiness is given by the county in which the rental property is located.

Step 4

Participate in the mediation process led by the Eviction Resolution Specialist (ERS) with the goal of creating a settlement agreement that may include various terms such as payment schedule details, changes in the rental agreement, rental assistance application responsibilities, and contingency plans.

If this process fails to produce a settlement agreement within 14 days, or the tenant defaults on agreement terms, the ERS will issue a DRC Certification that will allow you to proceed with eviction.

 

Can you end a tenancy for other reasons now?

Again, this depends on where your rental property is located. Burien, Kenmore, Kirkland and Seattle have all extended their full eviction bans (none of these include a ban on rent increases). In the rest of the state, you can end tenancies for causes that are permitted under HB 1236. Just be careful about this if the tenant is in rental arrears. Ask yourself, “Would I want to end this tenancy if the tenant was current on rent?” If the answer is yes, you should go through the ERP process instead.

What if you are facing personal hardship due to lack of rental income?

For many housing providers, the continued lack of rental income is causing serious hardships that rival or surpass the hardships of their tenants. Any self-managing sole owners with four or fewer properties who are themselves low-income may be able receive up to 80% of unpaid rent from the Limited Landlord Relief Fund managed by the Washington State Department of Commerce.

What if your tenant vacated, but still owes you money?

Also managed by the department of Commerce, the Landlord Covid Relief Program will pay up to $15,000 in back rent for low-income, limited resource tenants who have voluntarily vacated the rental property. You can also apply to this program if your tenant default on a payment schedule agreement.

What if your tenant owes rent even though they have the means to pay?

If you have taken the four steps outlined above, you can proceed with eviction and the court will determine how and when the money will be repaid.

Keep in mind that while RHAWA’s resource desk can answer basic questions about these processes, we obviously do not have tried and true “industry best practices” we can share with you. Also, the details surrounding ERP are likely to be highly specific in each county. As always, our resource desk staff strives to provide reliable information and resources as soon as possible, but please understand we do not have all the answers and will often suggest that members seek advice from an attorney. RHAWA has several member attorneys listed in our vendor directory at www.rhawa.org/vendor-directory/attorneys.