Gov. Jay Inslee waves during his Thursday morning press conference on extending protections for renters. (TVW)

Gov. Jay Inslee waves during his Thursday morning press conference on extending protections for renters. (TVW)

Governor extends some protections for Washington renters

Under a new order, landlords can only evict tenants who refuse to seek help through a relief program.

OLYMPIA — Washington tenants will have more time to catch up on rent payments without fear of being evicted.

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced an order that protects renters after the state’s eviction moratorium expires Wednesday.

Starting Aug. 1, landlords can evict tenants who refuse to seek help from a rental relief program or a repayment plan, under the new proclamation, which runs through September.

“I’m proud of the things we’ve done to protect families from homelessness during the COVID pandemic,” Inslee said during a news conference. “This extension is a bridge that will support both tenants and landlords during this transitional period.”

Thursday’s announcement comes after housing advocates across the state asked the governor for more time to get rental assistance programs up and running, as well as for existing ones to work through a backlog of tenants needing help.

In Snohomish County, the Dispute Resolution Center is processing more than 7,000 tenant applications, which could represent 17,500 to 21,000 people.

Relief dollars were not expected to reach many landlords before the eviction moratorium expired.

“The money is there, it’s just the process,” Inslee said. “There’s no shortage of cash in the drawer. We just need the functioning grant-making process, the application process and the clearance process to get these grants out the door.”

Since April, the county’s Dispute Resolution Center’s Homelessness Prevention Team has distributed more than $14 million and processed more than 1,800 applications.

Earlier this year, the Legislature earmarked $500 million for rental assistance. Another $650 million from the federal government should be available in July.

The total amount of past-due rent during the pandemic could be as high as $1.2 billion — averaging about $110 million each month, officials said Thursday.

So far, only six counties, including Snohomish, have implemented the state’s Eviction Resolution Pilot Program, which aims to settle disputes between landlords and tenants, while also helping renters find relief.

“We need local leaders to carry the ball to start the processes,” Inslee said. “I’m reasonably confident this is going to get done.”

In Snohomish County, the program has been in place since October.

Locally, landlords cannot begin the legal eviction process for non-payment of rent without first obtaining a signed certificate from the county’s Dispute Resolution Center. The certificate shows that the landlord tried to resolve their issue with a tenant out of court.

“These are achievable ends for tenants because there’s multiple ways to prevent eviction here,” Inslee said.

To contact the Dispute Resolution Center, call 800-280-4770 or 425-339-1335. For help with rental assistance, call 2-1-1.

Inslee’s bridge plan also means more time to implement a new right-to-counsel program for indigent tenants.

Earlier this week, with the moratorium’s expiration looming, the Edmonds City Council passed similar bridge protections for tenants.

And on June 14, the Snohomish County Council voted 3-2 to send Inslee a letter asking him to extend the moratorium beyond June 30.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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