On Sunday, October 4th, radio show “WHATCOM REPORT” on KGMI NewsTalk 790 interviewed Windermere Property Management to discuss the rental market in Whatcom County. There is so much going on in the COVID era. The governor has issued directives on eviction moratoriums and rental increases that need explanation to both renters and property owners.
There are many questions about the new rules….
How are the property owners faring? How do tenants cope with reduced income? How are property managers dealing with all changes? How do the property owners pay the mortgages on those rental properties in the midst of all this? To learn all about the current state of the rental market and be informed on the important issues in our county, The Whatcom Report interviewed Bethany Aldrich and Doug Wight of Windermere Property Management.
Bethany Aldrich is the Residential Operations Manager for Windermere Management. She has been in the property management field in Whatcom County for the past 16 years, working every level of managing a property, from cleaning apartments, to onsite management, to professional property management. In heading the Residential Management Division at Windermere Management, she keeps the Managers educated on current trends, laws and changes in our local rental market.
Doug Wight is the owner is the owner of Windermere Property Management. Doug graduated from Western Washington University, and owned Ebright Wight, Inc. for more than 20 years before partnering with Windermere Real Estate. He has extensive experience as a local real estate agent and broker, property manager and investor, and understands the real estate and Governor Inslee’s Proclamation Regarding Rental Housing during CoVid. The directive may be found at: https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-extends-safe-start-proclamation-eviction-moratorium
Below is a synopsis of the new regulations:
What Landlords Can and Can’t Do
Note: that we are not attorneys, our answers today are based on our experience as professional Property Managers and should not be taken as legal advice.
What are the current rules for rent payments?
- Rent is still due
- Moratorium in place prevents Landlords from:
i. Evicting someone for unpaid rent
ii. Serving 14 day notice to pay or vacate, Notice to Terminate Tenancy, 10 day notices to comply or vacate, any notices of rent increase or any notice threatening to collect a debt.
What can landlords do if tenants have difficulty paying rent?
- Landlords are encouraged to have communications with their tenants regarding rent repayment options. While we cannot serve a notice or threaten any eviction proceedings, we can and should discuss repayment plans with our tenants.
- In fact, the eviction moratorium requires that landlords offer a re-payment plan that was reasonable based on the individual financial, health, and other circumstances of that resident.
- At our office, the practice of offering a repayment plan has taken the place of serving a 14 day notice to those renters who fall behind fall behind during the proclamation period.
- We encourage our residents to talk to us so we know what their situation is. In many cases, we have been able to refer tenants to outreach programs that may be able to help them with their unpaid rent. Some of which are just now coming to conclusion with a positive outcome through the Opportunity Council.
How long does the current proclamation last? Do you think it will be extended?
- October 15, 2020
- I suspect it is a possibility, Oregon just announced that it has extended its eviction moratorium through the end of the year. I would not be surprised if our state follows suit.
What are the current rules for landlords in terms of lease renewals, rent increases and terminating leases?
- Proclamation 20-19.3 is more than just an eviction moratorium. It addresses Evictions and other related housing practices.
- Even those of us who have been in the industry for many years needed clarification. At Windermere, we wanted to make sure we are operating within the guidelines we were given, so we reached out to the State Attorney Generals office. At the time of our first call, the Assistant Attorney General, Brian Sutherland, called us back. We had maybe half a dozen communications to get clarifications from their office as questions arose and the extensions were issued.
- It is our understanding that landlords can still renew a lease agreement if they are not raising the rents.
- Rent increases are prohibited during the time period of proclamation 20-19.3.
- Landlords are prohibited from serving or enforcing, or threatening to serve and enforce, any notice requiring a resident to vacate any dwelling during the time of the proclamation period.
There are very few exceptions:
- If a landlord attaches an affidavit attesting that the action is necessary to respond to a significant and immediate risk to the health, safety or property of others created by the resident.
- If the landlord plans to personally occupy the premises as a primary residence and gives at lease 6o days written notice; or
- If the Landlord provides at least 60 days written notice of the intent to sell the property.
In all of these scenarios, we recommend seeking legal council before taking any action to make sure you are giving the proper notice.
What if the tenant did not lose their job and is earning the same rate of pay as before – is there anything that prevents tenant stopping the rent payments?
- The short answer is no.
- The proclamation states that tenants, residents, and renters who are not materially affected by COVID-19 should and must continue to pay rent, to avoid unnecessary and avoidable economic hardships to landlords who are economically impacted by the pandemic.
- However, when reading the proclamation, it is apparent that the restrictions placed on landlords apply to all residential dwellings and commercial rental properties in Washington State.
What happens if the property owner wants to sell the property? Or perhaps wants to move into it themselves?
- Fortunately, when the Governor’s office extended Proclamation 20-19.3 on July 24th, they added the inclusion that Landlords who are wanting to sell their property or personally occupy the premises as their primary residence, may give written notice of at least 60 days to a tenant of their intent to do so.
- We would recommend again to consult an attorney prior to serving any kind of notice to make sure they follow the requirements set forth in Proclamation 20-19.3.
What is the current non-payment rate of rentals in Whatcom County and how are your property owners working within these new guidelines?
- Just last week, we took a good hard look at the delinquent tenants that Windermere Management is working with. Overall, there was a less than 1% of tenants who were behind in rent. Half of that were tenants who had more than one month rent owing. Our experience is that the very large majority of tenants are still paying rent.
- Most property owners understand that these are not just guidelines, but law. Early on, we had some property owners who wanted to do their part to help their residents and saw some even forgiving partial rent balances to help those tenants stay on their feet.
- Now, as the pandemic has dragged on for several more months, we continue to have owners who understand that their tenants may need to break up their rent and pay it in smaller payments throughout the month. It is those owners who have the renters who have not paid for 3 – 4 months without paying anything, that are starting to feel concerned. Even in their frustration, I think everyone of the owners I have spoken with know these are unprecedented times and that what we can do as landlords is still somewhat restricted.
- A little bit of communication from tenants will go a long way in helping to ease property owners’ concerns. If you are a tenant and you can’t pay all of your rent but can pay something, I encourage you to pay what you can, and talk to your landlord about your circumstances..
What is there is damage to the rental unit either from natural disaster or from tenant damages? Is the property owner able to do the needed repairs? How does that work?
- That is a good question. Landlords still need to be able to protect their asset and make repairs especially items that can lead to extensive damage (such as a water leak). There is nothing in the proclamation that I have read that states that a landlord cannot enter a unit to perform repairs. But, they should be done in accordance with the Washington State Tenant Landlord Act (RCW 59.18). (Depending on what stage your county is in, other restrictions may apply, but in all stages a landlord can perform repairs for immediate hazards or to prevent spoiling of a property)
- At Windermere, all our maintenance technicians have been trained to wear all personal protective equipment in our rental units to protect both themselves and our residents from COVID-19 to include, masks, gloves and shoe covers. They are fast and efficient getting the job done to protect the property and respect any concerns a resident may have about having someone in their home during these times.
- Again, I would say communication is huge. It’s a win, win if you can build a relationship with your renters and just keep them informed about what you are doing and how you plan to protect them while still getting the job done.
Are there any other restrictions currently in place that landlords have to follow?
- A landlord cannot currently charge a renter a late fee under the terms of the Eviction Moratorium.
There is just so much to know about the new rules with rental property. Where can people get more information?
- You can learn more about Proclamation 20-19.3 on Governor Inslee’s website at governor.wa.gov, when you select COVID-19 Resources you will find a list of information related to our states COVID response. The last update for this proclamation can be found next to the date for 7/24/2020 titled: Covid-19: Moratorium on Evictions Extension
- If you are behind on rent right now, I would encourage you to contact local organizations such as the Opportunity Council to learn what rental assistance programs they have available. They may not be able to help everyone, but they may be able to refer you to somewhere else that can.
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