COVID-19 Legal FAQs for Renters in
This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information. Your local city or county may have additional protections for renters.
This page was last updated on July 7, 2020. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.
Its information is taken from these sources:Wash. Governor's eviction orderWash. Governor's utility shutoff orderWashington Law HelpWashington State CourtsPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect TrackerWash. Governor's extension orderWash. Governor's utility extension
- Are there any special protections for renters during the emergency? How long do they last?
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has issued an eviction moratorium that prohibits landlords from evicting most renters. This order went into effect on March 18, 2020. It has been extended to August 1. The order also forbids late fees or raising the rent during this period. It also requires landlords to offer reasonable repayment plans when non-payment was due to COVID-19 related hardship. Exceptions to this moratorium include when the landlord can show eviction was necessary due to health or safety concerns or if the landlord seeks to sell or personally occupy the property.
The Governor has also ordered that utility companies cannot shut off residents' utilities due to non-payment, or charge late fees, through July 28, 2020.
- What do the protections mean for renters?
Washington's protections mean that through August 1, 2020:
- Your landlord cannot raise your rent, raise your security deposit, or charge you late fees for unpaid rent starting February 29, 2020.
- If you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19, then your landlord cannot attempt to evict you, send you to collections, or try to collect late rent for March, April, May, June, or other rent due prior to August 1, 2020 unless they offer you a reasonable payment plan that is based on your individual economic, health, or other issues.
- Your landlord cannot give you a notice telling you to move out for any reason unless they say that you are causing a significant threat to the health or safety of others.
- Your landlord cannot file an eviction claim in court against you.
- Hearings on eviction are not suspended, and the court may hear an existing eviction case that had been filed against you.
- Courts should not be enforcing evictions or issuing writs, unless they specifically find that you are threatening the health or safety of others.
- Law enforcement will not enforce an existing eviction order against you, to remove you from your home (unless there is a health and safety issue).
It also means that your utilities cannot be shut off through July 28, even if you do not pay your bills.
- Do I still have to pay rent during the emergency?
Yes, Washington renters still need to pay rent during the emergency.
The Governor's eviction moratorium order does protect renters from the landlord raising rent or increasing your security deposit through August 1, 2020. Landlords also cannot charge late fees for unpaid rent, that renters missed between February 29, 2020 and August 1, 2020.
Also check with your local city or county government to see if they give renters any additional protections if they are struggling to pay rent during the emergency.
If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:
- Ask your landlord for a reasonable Rent Repayment Plan: The Governor's order requires a landlord to offer renters a reasonable payment plan if they cannot afford their rent. This must be specific to each individual renter. Get help here for drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
- Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
- Keep proof of COVID-19's impact on you: Collect documents about your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. This includes letters from your employer, doctor, insurance provider, child care provider, schools, etc.
- Check for help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs, you may be able to get help.
- Can my landlord evict me during the emergency?
Washington renters cannot be evicted from their homes during the emergency period, unless there is a health or safety threat.
Under the Governor's eviction moratorium order, landlords cannot evict renters through August 1, 2020.
During this period, landlords can still ask for rent, but they cannot have a renter removed from their homes or file an eviction lawsuit against them, unless there is an immediate and significant health or safety threat on the property.
Landlords who want to personally move into the home or sell the property, can evict renters if they have given at least 60 days written notice to them.
Once the emergency period ends, landlords can begin to enforce evictions against renters once again. If your landlord has not given you a reasonable, specific Repayment Agreement by August 1, you may have a possible defense to an eviction lawsuit or collections action. See more details here.
If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.
- Can my utilities be shut off during the emergency?
During the emergency, Washington renters are protected from utility shutoffs if they cannot pay their utility bill, through at least July 28th.
Governor Inslee ordered all energy, landline telephone, and water utility providers to continue services for residents during the emergency period. No customer should have home utilities shut off during the emergency, based on an inability to pay.
The utility companies are also not allowed to charge late fees for unpaid bills during the emergency period.
Renters must still pay their utility bills. If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.
Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.
- Are you eligible for U.S. national protections against eviction?
Renters in 3 categories have special national protections against being evicted during the Emergency Period of March 27, 2020 to July 24 or 25, 2020. These national protections add onto any state and local protections you have.
Do you fit in any of these 3 categories?Your home’s owner has a federally backed mortgage loan or other guarantee (like through Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae). Search if your home is covered.You pay rent through a federal assistance program like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Rural Development Voucher, or other 'covered housing' program.You live in Public Housing, where the government is your landlord.
If you are a renter in one of these 3 categories, the federal CARES Act section 4024 gives you these protections. (Remember, these protections add onto any state and local protections you have)
- Your landlord cannot file a new eviction lawsuit against you for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period. They can still evict you for other behavior, like drug abuse, other criminal activities, or other lease violations.
- Your landlord cannot charge you new fees or penalties for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period.
- After the Emergency Period ends, your landlord may not be able to evict you immediately.(Different states interpret the protections ending on July 24 or 25. Check with local lawyers to see about your state). If you have not paid your rent in full during the Emergency Period, your landlord must wait until the period ends before giving you a notice to vacate. For example, they may give you a notice on July 26, and you must be allowed until at least August 25 to leave the property.