[A landlord] violated the Washington eviction moratorium by threatening tenants and starting to evict 14 of them, and will pay $350,000 to settle a lawsuit, according to a release from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
A Nevada corporation, headquartered in Los Angeles, will pay almost $300,000 directly to tenants in the form of refunds, payments and rent forgiveness.
Ferguson filed suit in April, charging [that the landlord] violated Gov. Jay Inslee’s Emergency “Evictions” Proclamation. Inslee’s proclamation establishes a temporary moratorium on evictions for the inability to pay rent. The proclamation specifically prohibits landlords from issuing notices to pay or vacate during the effective period.
Ferguson said in the complaint that [the landlord] violated the proclamation by issuing Notices to Pay or Vacate in April to at least 14 tenants of a multi-building apartment complex containing more than 700 units. The lawsuit also asserted that unfair, deceptive and harassing communications [were sent] to approximately 1,400 Washington state tenants.
The tenants discovered the notices to pay or vacate at their front doors. The notice instructed tenants to pay all rent due within 14 days or be “subject to eviction as provided by law.” The notice stated that it was “unconditional,” and threated tenants that if they failed to “surrender the premises,” they would “be guilty of unlawful detainer and subject to eviction.”
In addition, beginning on April 1, [the landlord] sent multiple emails to tenants reminding them that rent was due, and stating that they would “not waive any late fees.” This notice and later notices pressuring tenants to pay April 2020 rent did not mention the governor’s proclamation prohibiting evictions for non-payment of rent.
[The landlord] is a Nevada-based for-profit real estate investment firm and property management company that operates at least four apartment complexes in Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties. They manage property in 20 states with an investment portfolio of $6 billion.
[The landlord] said in a statement it had taken steps after the pandemic began to “ease the resulting burdens” on its tenants but recognized that more could have been done.
“To that end, we have worked with the state to further improve our policies and procedures and to offer our residents financial compensation to ease their burden during this time,” the statement said.
[The landlord] unfairly and deceptively pressured residents to pay outstanding rent by sending numerous threatening emails and notices, sometimes multiple times per day, and making harassing phone calls to tenants or tenants’ workplaces, according to the release.
Ferguson’s lawsuit was the first state lawsuit filed to enforce Inslee’s emergency proclamations.
“[The landlord] is a large, sophisticated corporation that knew about the governor’s emergency evictions proclamation and ignored it anyway,” Ferguson said in the release. “Their conduct is cruel and unlawful – and we will hold them accountable.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson
As part of the consent decree, filed in Pierce County Superior Court, [the landlord] will be required to:
- Forgive April 2020 rent, or offer refunds to those who paid, for 14 tenants at who received Notices to Pay or Vacate in violation of the governor’s proclamation;
- Once the consent decree is approved by the court, [the landlord] will also be required to pay $246,900 to 1,441 tenants who received unfair, deceptive or harassing communications;
- Waive or refund fees for tenants who need or choose to move out before their lease is up while the governor’s proclamation is in effect.
[The landlord] will pay approximately $344,646 to resolve the lawsuit, with almost $300,000 going directly to tenants in the form of refunds, rent forgiveness, or direct payments, including:
- Full rent forgiveness or refunds of April 2020 rent 14 tenants who received Notices to Pay or Vacate — a total of $26,877.69;
- $500 payments to 257 tenants who were behind on April rent at the time that [the landlord] sent letters that attempted to shame or harass tenants who had been unable to pay full April rent — a total of $128,500; and
- $100 payments to 1,184 tenants who received the unfair and deceptive letters but were not behind on April rent — a total of $118,400.
“During this time of hardship and uncertainty, the moratorium on evictions is intended to help families and individuals keep a roof over their heads,” Inslee said in the release. “Any property owners who attempt to remove people from their homes and skirt this order are breaking the law. I thank AG Ferguson and his team for enforcing the eviction moratorium.”
The Attorney General’s Active Enforcement of the Eviction Moratorium
Ferguson’s civil-rights division began receiving complaints from tenants shortly after Inslee issued his evictions proclamation. The attorney general’s office launched an eviction-complaint form on April 1. Since then, more than 650 Washingtonians have filed complaints. The attorney general’s office has contacted 469 tenants and 284 landlords in response to complaints.
More than a dozen assistant attorneys general from other divisions in the office are volunteering their time to assist the Civil Rights Division in responding to these eviction moratorium complaints.
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