Q&A: Rental rights during COVID-19, free legal help available

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services is looking to help tenants and landlords facing potential legal issues during the COVID-19 shutdown, especially in regards to the eviction moratorium.

“We’ve been getting a couple of calls from people telling us that the landlord served a 14-day pay or vacate notice,” Executive Director Quinn Dalan said. “You can’t do those things right now.”

Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services is a nonprofit organization that works to connect low-income individuals with civil legal needs to attorneys in the community who are willing to volunteer their time.

“[We want] to remove and reduce barriers to the justice system and to improve access to justice,” Dalan said.

KAPP-KVEW asked Dalan to help answer questions about the eviction moratorium, including:

What does the eviction moratorium prohibit?

The moratorium prevents landlords from threatening to evict, evicting, or seeking an unlawful detainer order against tenants who cannot pay their rent.

“Landlords cannot give you notice to vacate and they cannot threaten to give you notice to vacate,” Dalan said.

Does the moratorium prevent ALL evictions?

The moratorium is intended to prevent landlords from evicting tenants who cannot pay rent.

However, landlords can still pursue evictions in cases involving property damage or tenants who pose a danger to the safety and health of others or the property.

“Nuisance, criminal-type behavior could result obviously in an eviction,” Dalan said.

Are tenants still responsible for paying rent?

Under the current eviction moratorium, there are no “rent forgiveness” provisions, meaning tenants are still responsible for paying rent.

According to the governor’s office, “all rent payments delayed through this moratorium will still be owed but a landlord must offer a tenant a reasonable repayment plan to enforce any collection of that debt.”

What happens when the eviction moratorium ends?

The current version of the eviction moratorium is scheduled to end June 4th. At that point, landlords are supposed to work with tenants to come up with a reasonable plan for the tenant to repay whatever rent they owe.

“If your rent is $1,000 and you can afford $500, just pay it,” Dalan said. “Because at the end of the day the less you can owe when the dust settles, the easier it would be to get you into a reasonable payment plan.”

However, if a tenant cannot pay rent or refuses to repay the balance for previous months’ rent, a landlord could evict them at that point.

What should tenants do if they are served an eviction notice prior to June 4th?

“If you think something’s not right, or you think there’s an issue, you are welcome to call us,” Dalan said.  “We’ll sort it out for you.”

Yakima County Volunteer Attorney Services can be reached by phone at 509-453-4400, by email at yakimavas@yakimavas.org, or on their website. 

Tenants can also call Northwest Justice Project’s CLEAR (Coordinated Legal Education, Advice and Referral system) hotline at 1-888-201-1014 to get help with civil legal problems.

Additionally, Dalan said tenants can file a complaint against their landlord with the state attorney general’s office.