As Monthly Rents Come Due, So Do Different Eviction Policies For Washington, Idaho Tenants

Mar 30, 2020

Rent is due this week. But with stay-home orders in both Washington and Idaho, shuttered businesses and a troubled economy, some people wonder if they’ll get evicted if they don’t pay.

In Washington, a moratorium on evictions gives protection to renters hit hard by the COVID outbreak. Idaho has no such moratorium, but a recent court order may protect them.

QUICK LINKS:

-Idaho coronavirus page (with number of cases and emergency orders)

-Washington coronavirus emergency orders 

-Washington Department of Health (with number of cases)

It’s just one of many differences between the two states and how they’re reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak. But as March turns into April, rent is probably the main issue on the minds of many people.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says it shouldn’t be.

In a Monday news conference with Gov. Jay Inslee, Ferguson gave a stern warning to landlords seeking to flout Inslee’s March 18 order blocking law enforcement from enforcing eviction orders for non-payment for 30 days.

“Putting families on this street during this public health emergency is not right, and it’s certainly not healthy for everyone concerned,” Ferguson said. “We want to be clear. The intent of the governor’s proclamation is going to be enforced.”

No Such Order For Idaho (Yet)

In Idaho there’s no such order or warning, despite pressure from elected officials in Boise, the state capital and Idaho’s largest city.

The problem many renters have is the same: they lost their jobs, permanently or not, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-home orders issued by both Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Inslee. In one measure of the job loss, claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Idaho jumped from 1,031 to 13,341 in one week — a 1,200% increase. Washington saw a similar increase in claims.

About 29% of households in Idaho are renter-occupied, according to recent census figures. In Washington, it’s 37%.

Terri Anderson, co-executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington, said keeping renters in their homes is not just an economic issue, but one of public health.

“Right now people need to stay put. They need to stay in their homes,” she said. 

Some renters may not know of Inslee’s moratorium and could lose their home because of it, Anderson said. 

“Tenants do not know the difference between a notice on their door and a legal action. They will just move,” she said. “We don’t want to create any more panic in people’s lives right now. We want people to stay put. That’s the safest place to be. And that’s where they should be.”

Though Idaho evictions are still technically allowed, they may be stopped by court order, said Zoe Olson, executive director of the Boise-based Intermountain Fair Housing Council.

Olson said the state Supreme Court “in a sense” put a moratorium on evictions through its March 26 emergency order limiting court services.

“Only expedited proceedings for illegal drug activities may go forward,” Olson said in an email.

Sara Thomas, the court’s spokesperson, declined comment for this story. Last week, however, Thomas told the Idaho Press that eviction hearings are required by state law and cannot be limited by the courts.

“The policy question of whether evictions should continue regardless of the ability to follow statutory requirements is not one for the courts to decide,” Thomas told the Idaho Press. “That is a question for the governor and Legislature to decide.”

Little and the Idaho Legislature have not acted on evictions, despite pressure from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the city council. The city has waived rent for tenants in about 300 units of public housing.

Ada and Boise counties, where the Boise metro area is located, have also called for Little to make a statewide policy.

A judge in south-central Idaho’s Blaine County has stopped eviction hearings with an ongoing coronavirus outbreak there.

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