WA State’s Wild Tenant Eviction Moratorium Roller Coaster Ride

I’ve been getting a lot more questions and inquiries about buying or owning rental properties, landlord and tenant questions, market predictions related to rentals and rent amounts… all sorts of juicy stuff.

I love it all because I LOVE owning rentals!

But let’s be clear: owning residential rental properties is not a “set it and forget it” proposition.

And I don’t just mean fixing leaky foundations and doing the occasional full-gut remodel in between tenants.

In this case, I mean “keeping up with the dynamic landscape of Landlord/Tenant laws”, especially in the Covid era.

Prior to Covid, you could…

In old times… aka “pre-Covid”… a landlord could decide they wanted to remove a tenant and move a new one in at the end of a lease, no problem.

No reason was required, other than that the lease had reached its end date and the landlord has given notice that it wouldn’t be extended.

Just a few years ago, even on a month-to-month lease, as long as the landlord delivered a move-out notice by the 10th of any given month, they could legally expect that tenant to be 100% out and handing over the keys to a clean rental by the end of THAT VERY MONTH!

So we’re talking 20 days!

(Can you even IMAGINE nowadays expecting a Bellingham renter to first FIND a rental, then apply for it, be accepted, pay rent and deposit, get keys, move in, and return to the old one to clean it top to bottom…. inside of 20 days???)


The City of Bellingham thought so too, so in 2018 they came up with new rules.

That change stated that, on the tenant side, if the tenant wanted to move out at the end of a month, they could still only deliver 20 days’ notice to the landlord.

But if the landlord wanted the tenant to vacate, they had to give 60 days’ notice to the tenant.

The same rule applied if the landlord wanted to increase the rents by 10% or more… 60 days’ notice required.

Then came the Covid eviction moratorium…

When Covid went mainstream in WA State and the rest of the US, Gov. Inslee instituted a full-blown eviction moratorium.

As of March 18, 2020 (last year) Gov. Inslee’s Proclamation 20-19 stated there would be no move-out orders delivered to any tenant.

  • No evictions
  • No notice to pay or vacate
  • No notice of unlawful detainer
  • No notice of termination of rental
  • No notice to comply or vacate

The only exceptions were if the tenant’s health or safety, or that of others caused by tenant, was at risk.

Or if the landlord planned to occupy or sell the property. Then the 60-day notice applied.

If the tenant couldn’t pay, didn’t matter. The landlord was not allowed to move them out based on non-payment of rent, nor were they allowed to charge or accrue late fees.

That proclamation was extended again and again, and will ultimately expire in one week, on June 30th, 2021.

But then, for a minute, there was a new set of rules… and penalties!

As July 1, 2021, approached, Inslee’s Eviction Moratorium (Proclamation 20-19) would have expired, and was set to be replaced with Senate Bill 5160 — Governor Inslee’s new legislation that carries over some parts of the proclamation and also introduces some new laws.

Here are a few excerpts:

Let me plunk this big one on the table first: The end of no-cause evictions or terminations of rental, at the end of month-to-month leases.

This means that if you’re on a month-to-month lease, the landlord can’t just decide arbitrarily to give you that 60-day notice and expect you to move out. He has to have “just cause” (that could be any of 16 different ones listed in the bill).

If a landlord intends to occupy or sell the property, the former 60-day notice requirement is now 90 days.

There is also a ban on collecting late fees that accrued between March March 1, 2020, and January 1, 2022 — so anything during the pandemic up through the end of this year.

If you as a landlord are called on for a reference check of a past tenant, you are not allowed to report on any eviction action or late rent for the same time period as above.

Landlords must offer payment plans for delinquent rent through Jan. 1, 2022, or through the end of the Governor’s Public Health Emergency declaration, whichever is later.

Those negotiated payments cannot exceed 1/3 of whatever the monthly rent was… so 1 year of late rent could take 3 years to collect.

There’s a lot more… and some of it is TOOTHY with heavy fines for failing to comply.

Even the attorneys I’ve consulted with are not super clear on the full interpretation of SB 5160, so it’s more important than ever if you’re a landlord to consult with legal counsel and plan to update your leases!!!

There was a LOT more contained in SB 5160 that I have not even touched on here. Do not at all consider this a full summary, please.

But wait…

SB 5160 never saw the light of day. As the month of June played out, Governor Inslee did something completely unprecedented: He overruled SB 5160 and extended the Covid-based eviction moratorium again, through September.

Then he extended it again, through October 31st.

THEN…. it expired. On November 1st, for the first time in a year and a half, evictions and late fees were once again allowable by law.

I have not read whether SB 5160 will come back into existence. Some cities, including Seattle, have extended their City-wide eviction moratoriums through January 2022 or other deadlines, so be sure to check your local laws city by city in Washington state.

Remember my favorite rule:

Q: What advice would you give to the average landlord?

A: Don’t be average.

And, to be fair…

Q: What advice would you give to the average tenant?

A: Don’t be average.

If you want to read the full Landlord Tenant Law for WA State, here you go: