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Six-County Pilot Program to Help with Eviction Backlog


November 25, 2020  by  Leah LaCivita
Category:  Housing COVID-19

Six-County Pilot Program to Help with Eviction Backlog

A new court-based program is being piloted in six Washington counties to divert and work towards a resolution of cases where a tenant may be evicted due to non-payment of rent. Starting this month and through the end of December, the Eviction Resolution Program (ERP) will facilitate early resolution of disputes over non-payment of rent and arrears during and after the state’s emergency COVID-19 eviction moratorium.

Background

With many landlords and tenants hit hard by impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, counties across the state will likely face a large number of eviction cases after state and federal moratoria on evictions is lifted at the end of the year. Six counties in the state account for 80% of all the eviction cases filed: Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, and Thurston. While there are no clear projections on how many evictions will take place once the moratoria are lifted, in King County alone more than 21,000 households have requested rental assistance due to the pandemic. This backlog has the potential to create significant housing instability for families, impede the flow of resources available to both landlords and tenants, and overwhelm courts still reeling from substantial case backlogs due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

COVID-19 has also exacerbated racial disparities in housing, as renters are far more likely to be non-white. A disproportionate number of Black and Latino households have struggled with rent or mortgage payments during the pandemic, according to a July analysis of census data by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. This same study found that 52% percent of renters lost income during the pandemic, with 64% of Latino renters (64%) reporting lost income, followed by 57% of Black renters, 51% of Asian American renters, and 47% of white renters. 

In March Governor Jay Inslee imposed a statewide moratorium on residential evictions (Proclamation 20-19.3), which was extended and expanded by Proclamation 20-19.1, and extended again by Proclamation 20-19.4. Further, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Order temporarily halts residential evictions nationwide through the end of 2020. 

The Eviction Resolution Program

In hopes of reducing the severity of a wave of evictions statewide, this summer, the state’s judicial branch convened a workgroup of stakeholders from across Washington State — including attorneys, landlords, rent and landlord assistance program staff  — under the leadership of the Superior Court Judges’ Association to develop a solution: the Eviction Resolution Program, which was implemented in the six pilot counties (Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, and Thurston) early this month. The goal is to resolve more eviction-related cases in a way that allows the tenant to retain housing, prevents the landlord’s need to file an unlawful detainer action, and lessens the economic impact on landlords.

The ERP requires landlords to undertake efforts such as direct negotiation, facilitated conciliation services, and, if agreed upon by both parties, formal mediation prior to filing a motion to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent. Eligible cases are those where non-payment of rent or non-compliance with previously agreed-upon payment plans are the primary reason for the decision to evict.

ERP provides free services to participants in the form of trained Eviction Resolution Specialists (Specialists) from community-based Dispute Resolution Centers (DRC), as well as interpreters. The Specialists will help tenants explore available state and local rental assistance, work with the tenant and landlord to create achievable payment plans, and address a range of other terms can resolve the matter in a way that allows the tenant to retain housing (and prevent the landlord’s need to file an unlawful detainer action). Tenants need not meet any income eligibility or citizenship requirements in order to participate.

The ERP is a two-step process: Along with a rent due notice/letter, a landlord will send Notice #1, a request for a formal first meeting involving the two parties and DRC staff. Notice #1 also includes contact information of the county DRC, rental assistance resources, and the county tenant attorneys. Upon receipt of the rent due notice and Notice #1, the tenant has 14 days to voluntarily engage in the process. If the tenant does not respond to the initial contact, the landlord sends the tenant Notice #2, which is another request to engage in the ERP program. The tenant has 10 days to respond to this second contact and the landlord sends a copy of Notice #2 to the county DRC.

Once a landlord and tenant voluntarily enter into the ERP process, Specialists will work with both parties and external partners to resolve the issue of non-payment and future payments. If resolution cannot be achieved, formal mediation will be offered to the landlords/tenants at no cost.

The ERP process can be initiated by either the landlord or the tenant without service of a 14-day notice. If the tenant initiates or responds to a notice, the landlord is obligated to participate in the process. Once the moratoria are lifted, the ERP will require landlords to engage in pre-litigation conciliation efforts prior to the filing of an unlawful detainer action.

Conclusion

County-based pilot ERPs will operate in accordance with an enabling order from the Washington State Supreme Court (Order No. 25700-B-639) and a standing order of its local superior court. Pilots are scheduled to operate through December 31, 2020, and the program is currently funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

For more information, see the Eviction Resolution Program webpage and the ERP Court User Guidance Documents and Materials toolkit.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.

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