Olympia, COVID-19, Business

Olympia plans to approve new renter protections

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The Olympia City Council is prepared to approve an ordinance that would provide protections to renters facing eviction due to COVID-19-related complications.

The ordinance, an addition to city housing code, provides a defense for tenants should they face a court eviction hearing. It also allows them to pay back accrued rent in installments and provides further protection from late fees and interest.

While the city councilors had the option to adopt the ordinance during yesterday’s meeting, a majority instead voted for clarifying language to be added to one section of the ordinance. They will vote to pass the ordinance at next week’s meeting.

The timing of the ordinance coincides with the expiration of a state-wide eviction moratorium ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee, set to end Oct. 15. A federal eviction moratorium is in place until the end of the year.

According to the ordinance, tenants are provided a defense during a court eviction hearing if they are unable to pay landlords between the time the ordinance is passed and July 1, 2021. In Washington, landlords cannot evict someone without a court order. Here in Thurston County, eviction hearings go to the Thurston County Superior Court, where the tenant could use the new defense provided by the ordinance. The tenant would have to prove that he or she couldn’t pay rent due to a COVID-19-related issue. The ordinance lays out all the possible issues, including loss of work, reduction or loss of income, and the tenant or a family member becoming sick with COVID-19.

The new city code would then allow tenants to enter into an agreement to pay back accrued rent in installments. The tenant wouldn’t be required to pay more than one-third of the overdue rent per month. All the debt would have to be paid off by Oct. 1, 2021.

Additionally, late fees, interest or any other additional charges would be suspended for people after entering into a payment agreement, unless the tenant broke a written payment agreement for reasons unrelated to COVID-19.

City Manager Jay Burney said during the meeting that he met with city landlords last week. They reported that a majority of their tenants were still making rent payments on time, and suggested that the ordinance last for just six months, Burney said.

However, at yesterday’s meeting, the councilors opted for protections lasting a year, mainly with the argument that COVID-19-related financial hardships are likely to last for a year or longer. The council members have the power to extend the ordinance further.

In Olympia, 54 percent of households are renters, according to data presented by Assistant City Manager Keith Stahley during the meeting. A study from the National Council of State Housing Agencies indicates that between 190,000 and 300,000 people in Washington are at risk of eviction.

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