Four Yakima County landlords suing Governor Inslee with the support of the Washington Business Properties Association in the latest lawsuit over his pandemic eviction moratorium say the emergency order is devastating for mom-and-pop property owners.
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Washington, seeks injunctive relief from the moratorium. This comes after a similar lawsuit was filed in Seattle last month.
Established in March when the pandemic began, the moratorium prevents a property owner from evicting a tenant for the reason of that tenant’s inability to pay rent. Gov. Inslee has lengthened the moratorium more than once during the pandemic, most recently extending it to the end of the year.
“We certainly don’t need more housing insecurity in the moment of uncertainty during this pandemic,” Inslee stated last month.
Growing concern from landlords as Gov. Inslee extends eviction ban
The eviction moratorium applies to everyone from the biggest corporations to a single homeowner renting out their upper floor.
Yakima property owner Enrique Jevons, one of the plaintiffs, derives his sole income from his 88 rental units. He said more than 10% of his renters are paying less than they owe. While those who have been affected financially by the pandemic have been great about working out a payment plan, he said a couple of people who do have jobs are taking advantage of the blanket moratorium.
“Unfortunately, the way the governor’s order is written, we do have a couple of people who are just flat-out not paying,” Jevons said. “One person in particular simply told us, ‘I’m not going to pay because I don’t have to pay.’ And that individual is still employed.”
These people, Jevons said, make the situation harder for all the renters who are legitimately hurting due to the pandemic and are still doing their best to pay what they can.
Jevons said many politicians seem to view all landlords as wealthy, but mom-and-pop landlords do not own “skyscrapers with thousands of apartments.” Instead, they scrape together down payments to invest in different properties that they intend to rent out.
“There’s only so much savings I have — it’s not like I’m some huge corporation,” Jevons said. “Like most property owners, we’re just people in the community … it’s not like I can afford to pay all these expenses, and none of these expenses have gone away.”
He said he is not getting any breaks in property taxes or mortgages, as forbearance programs apply to individual homeowners rather than landlords.
He fears if the eviction moratorium goes on much longer and he has to go many more months with this reduced income, his properties will go into foreclosure.
“I’m becoming very fearful of being put out on the street, losing my properties,” he said.
If he goes into foreclosure, not only will he lose the money he has saved and invested into his properties — but the buildings will sit empty, and his renters will have to find somewhere else to go.
“When banks take back properties, they just vacate them, and they sit empty until the banks are able to put them up in foreclosure sales … that’s going to be a whole lot of people who are going to be out on the street or trying to look for someplace else to live,” Jevons said.
The plaintiffs are hoping to work with the governor to find a solution that exempts small-time landlords from the moratorium, and helps renters financially hurt by the pandemic. Jevons would like to see the government subsidize rent for those in need during the pandemic, similar to food stamps. In the case of food, he noted, grocery stores do not have to give away food for free, and people in need do not go hungry — the government steps in to help.
“If those who are affected by the virus could receive a voucher for the payment of housing, then everybody is fine,” he said, adding, “There has to be a solution, because this is a bigger problem than any individual can absorb.”
This would also help remove the mounting pile of debt facing those who have only been able to pay partial rent for the past eight months when the moratorium comes to an end.
“It’s not like I’m some huge corporation with a bunch of people, it’s just myself and my family of five who have invested all our years’ worth of savings over time, and have made this into a business where it’s our sole source of income,” Jevons said.