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 October 5, 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 extensionWash. Governor's extension
- Do Washington renters have special protections against eviction during COVID-19?
Washington Governor Jay Inslee has issued an eviction moratorium that prohibits landlords from evicting most renters through the end of the year. This order went into effect on March 18, 2020. It has been extended to end on December 31, 2020.
The order 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 at least October 15, 2020.
- What do the protections mean for Washington renters?
Washington's protections mean that through December 31, 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 October 15, 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 October 15th, even if you do not pay your bills.
- Do I still have to pay rent in Washington during COVID-19?
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 December 31, 2020. Landlords also cannot charge late fees for unpaid rent, that renters missed between February 29, 2020 and December 31, 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 COVID-19 in Washington?
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 December 31, 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 Dec. 31st, 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 COVID-19 in Washington?
During the emergency, Washington renters are protected from utility shutoffs if they cannot pay their utility bill, through at least October 15th.
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 eviction protections under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
What is the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium orders that renters should be protected from eviction if they are unable to pay their rent due to hardships like job loss, income loss, or medical expenses. This protection lasts from September 4, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium is not automatic protection against eviction. Renters need to fill in a Declaration document and give it to their landlord to get the protection.
Landlords may still try to file an eviction lawsuit against renters, but renters can use the moratorium to defend themselves in court.
Do you qualify for protection under the CDC Eviction Moratorium?
The CDC Eviction Moratorium applies to people who:
- Rent a home in the United States; AND
- Make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if you file a joint tax return); AND
- Are facing eviction based on nonpayment of rent (not for other problems, like lease violations or criminal activity); AND
- Can show they’re unable to pay rent because they’ve had a financial hardship, like losing a job, decrease in income, or medical bills; AND
- Can show that they’ve been trying their hardest to pay their rent and find any rental assistance; AND
- Can show that they’re at risk of homelessness if they were to be evicted.
If you live in a state, county, or city that has an eviction moratorium, the CDC Eviction Moratorium doesn’t replace this local one. It adds on top of your local protections.
What does the CDC Eviction Moratorium get you?
The CDC Eviction moratorium can stop an eviction proceeding against you. It could stop your landlord from removing you from your home, or from a court giving your landlord an eviction order through Dec. 31, 2020.
- If your landlord has already started an eviction lawsuit against you, you can use the CDC Eviction Moratorium as a defense in court.
- You can use the Declaration form to tell your landlord that you are protected from eviction, and to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- You must follow the process below to be protected by the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium does NOT get you rent relief:
- Even if you fill in the Declaration, this does not cancel rent that you owe, or stop rent or late fees from building up.
- After the CDC Moratorium expires on Dec. 31, 2020, you may be evicted for the rent that you owe.
The CDC Eviction Moratorium may NOT stop a landlord from suing you:
- Even after you fill in the Declaration and send it to your landlord, they might still file an eviction lawsuit against you.
- You can bring the Declaration to the court eviction hearing, to ask the court to stop the eviction.
- Call a local lawyer for help if your landlord sues you for eviction.
How do you use the CDC Eviction Moratorium to protect yourself?
To secure CDC Eviction Moratorium protection, follow these steps:
- Apply for rental assistance. Look for any rental and utility assistance in your area, and submit applications to these programs. Find local assistance programs here.
- Fill out Declarations. You and every adult in the household need to fill out a Declaration about your financial hardships and your attempts to get assistance. In the Declaration, you must say that you are telling the truth and that you may face legal consequences if you are lying. You can use this guide for help with the Declaration.
- Send the Declarations to your landlord, and also tell the landlord that you will do your best to pay when you can. Keep a copy of the Declarations, as well as any receipt or documentation that you have sent it to your landlord (like email receipt or screenshots of the message). These can be useful evidence that you followed the process correctly.
- Protections through Dec. 31st. After you send this, your landlord cannot remove you from your home for nonpayment of rent through December 31, 2020. They are also never allowed to harass or intimidate you, or force you to leave the home without a court order.
- If your landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against you, you can bring your Declarations to the court to ask them to stop the lawsuit. Contact a legal aid lawyer to help you with the lawsuit. Please note: Your landlord can still evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, like for engaging in criminal activity in the home, violating building codes or health ordinances, or threatening the health and safety of other residents.
- You will continue to owe your rent. Try to make a plan about how you will take care of all the rent you owe. At the end of the Eviction Moratorium protections on Dec. 31, 2020, you will no longer be protected from being evicted.
- Make sure you know your lease and its terms. Some landlords may try to evict you based on violations of the terms in your lease. If you know your lease, you can protect yourself by making sure you do not break any of its terms.
If your landlord is trying to evict you, you should contact a legal aid attorney who helps with evictions. The CDC Eviction Moratorium might give you protections that lawyers can help you with.