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Despite Coronavirus eviction moratorium, some landlords serve pay-or-vacate orders

April 9, 2020

Dillon Corson’s tree care business has been cut down by Governor Inslee’s stay-at-home order because he can only legally perform “emergency” work. 

“So you can’t be out doing routine work. And if you are caught doing routine work, not only will you get a citation, they will revoke your business license,” says Corson.

That loss of business means he can’t pay rent this month at home. And he’s not alone. Estimates from companies that track rental market data show that, as of April 9, between 12 and 20 percent of renters in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue areas were not able to make their full or even partial rent payments.

And this week, someone representing Corson’s landlord hit him with an eviction notice.

“I was in shock,” says Corson.

It was a hand-written note that says “pay or vacate,” issued days after the Governor’s proclamation that stopped residential evictions for the month of April.

Dillon Corson received this note from his landlord. All evictions for nonpayment of rent have been banned, by order of Governor Jay Inslee, for the month of April. (image courtesy of the the Washington Attorney General’s office)

“Then the guy started trying to intimidate us with talks of all of these rental fees and attorney fees saying it was going to be thousands and thousands of dollars if we don’t comply,” says Corson.

Attorney Scott Crain, with the non-profit Northwest Justice Project, says his office is hearing about landlords writing similar letters all over the region.

“We’ve seen landlords give notices to tenants for pretty trivial things like not certifying their income or permitting an inspection. Things they really can’t do in the middle of a pandemic when they are ordered to stay home,” says Crain.

So Attorney General Bob Ferguson took a look at that note Corson received.

“That handwritten note is a blatant disregard and violation of the governor’s proclamation,” says Ferguson.

Ferguson’s office has received more than 200 complaints over landlord-tenant issues since the COVID-19 outbreak began. While landlords cannot legally evict a tenant over rent payment, there have been no emergency measures cancelling rent or mortgage payments.

Another notice submitted by a consumer complaining that their landlords may be violating the temporary ban on evictions. (photo courtesy of the Washington Attorney General’s office)

“We’re just not using our team that are experts on this, we’ve actually gotten so many complaints we’ve reached out to volunteers through our office who have backgrounds on these issues to help out,” says Ferguson.

Ferguson’s office moved quickly on Corson’s situation.

“If you call out and ask for assistance, then you will get help,” says Ferguson.

And that same day, the landlord backed off.

“I learned that just because you constantly have a good relationship with somebody for a long time, it could go sour very quickly,” says Corson.

If you can’t pay your rent, let your landlord know right away. You may be able to work out a payment plan by using your last month’s rent or deposit as your monthly payment, and then topping up that balance over time, or deferring a month and paying that in additional rent when you’re back to work. For emergency rental assistance, you can call 211. We are also updating this page with Coronavirus news and resources.

If you have a landlord that is demanding payment and threatening to evict, please contact the attorney general’s office – and me. The Northwest Justice Project also has tools like letters to send to your landlord if they are trying to get you to pay when you can’t.  You can find that here and here.

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