Tenant protections related to COVID-19
On Oct. 13, City Council approved an ordinance that added a chapter of Rental Housing Code (Chapter 5.82) to Title 5 of the Olympia Municipal Code (OMC).
The Rental Housing Code establishes temporary protections for tenants who have fallen behind on their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It extends those protections through July 1, 2021.
If a landlord files an Unlawful Detainer action (an eviction) in Thurston County Superior Court, this ordinance is intended to provide qualifying Olympia residents an additional defense if they are unable to pay rent related to COVID-19.
A tenant must raise the defense when appearing at a Show Cause hearing on a landlord’s Unlawful Detainer action (eviction). The tenant has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence to show the court they were unable to pay rent due to one of the defenses set out in the ordinance due to COVID-19.
Defenses for failure to pay rent
The ordinance outlines seven factors that would provide a defense for a tenant’s failure to pay rent due to circumstances related to COVID-19:
- The tenant’s illness
- Loss or reduction of income
- Loss of employment
- Reduction in compensated hours of work
- Business or office closure
- A need to miss work to do unpaid care for a family member or child
- Other similar loss of income due to COVID-19
Repayment of rent owed
The Rental Housing Code allows for a reasonable written installment repayment plan negotiated between the landlord and residential tenant in good faith and based on the tenant’s individual financial, health and other circumstances, including the tenant’s income.
Repayment of rent owed is subject to the following conditions:
- The plan does not require the tenant to pay more than one-third of the overdue rent per month unless agreed to by the tenant in writing.
- All rental debt accumulated must be paid to the landlord in full by October 1, 2021 or the sunset date of the ordinance, whichever occurs first.
- Late fees, interest and other charges due to late payment of rent cannot be accrued from the effective date of the ordinance until the date the ordinance sunsets. However, once a tenant enters into a written installment repayment plan with a landlord, any default by tenant for any reason unrelated to COVID-19 will make the tenant responsible for late fees, interest or other charges from and after the date of the default in the repayment plan.
Rent assistance is available for qualifying Thurston County households impacted by COVID-19. Landlords and tenants can learn more about these programs by connecting directly with the Community Action Council of Lewis Mason Thurston Counties or Community Youth Services.
Contact Cary Retlin, Home Fund Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org