To address homelessness, we need to fix Washington’s eviction process

By Sen. Patty Kuderer and Rep. Nicole Macri

In the hierarchy of essential needs, shelter is non-negotiable; everyone should have access to an affordable home. And no one should lose their home because of a temporary setback.

Still, life happens. An unexpected trip to urgent care has us paying out of pocket. The car we rely on to get to work breaks down. Our boss reduces our number of shifts. Just about all of us have experienced a financial setback that makes us unsure if we’ll make the rent.

With over half of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, this can present an impossible choice between paying for basic needs. And for thousands of Washingtonians, it leads to eviction court and an expensive and expedited system designed to remove them from their homes as quickly as possible. Evictions are the leading cause of homelessness, impacting thousands of households across the state each year. But what if we told you it doesn’t have to be this way?

Washington state is a national leader on issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, and healthcare for our kids. But when it comes to tenant protections, we trail well behind the rest of the country. Our eviction laws push thousands of Washingtonians into homelessness every year.

By reforming our state’s eviction process, we can keep people housed and stop the cycle of homelessness before it even begins. More people would be able to stay in their homes and communities, and kids could stay in their schools. We could stop the cycle of homelessness before it begins.

Under our current laws, a tenant has only three days to catch up on rent before an expensive and risky court process begins. It does not matter if you are a dollar short or a day late on payment: once those three days are up, there is little a tenant can do to avoid an eviction. But the cost of a medical emergency, job loss or even a government shutdown takes more than three days to recover from — a lot more. Roughly 40 percent of Americans cannot come up with $400 in the event of an emergency, and 71 percent of the lowest income households in Washington pay more than half of their income on rent. A one-time setback can lead to an eviction in mere days.

That’s why we propose extending the three-day notice period. Giving tenants a more reasonable amount of time to absorb unexpected costs is not only good for the tenant, it’s good for the landlord. If the tenant has an opportunity to catch up on the rent, the landlord won’t need to spend time and money on expensive court proceedings, advertising and administrative processes for filling a vacancy — or even a month or two of lost rent while searching for a new tenant.

In the seven Washington cities with the highest homeless populations, evictions are a top reason for homelessness. A recent study of 1,200 eviction cases in Washington showed nearly 90 percent were for nonpayment of rent, and the majority were for one month’s rent or less. By giving tenants a more reasonable amount of time to catch up on the rent, we will prevent unjust evictions and fewer people will experience homelessness.

Nothing in our proposals would prevent landlords from collecting rent. A tenant always has to pay rent to remain housed, and landlords will not be asked to forego any payments. States like Tennessee, Minnesota and Massachusetts provide 14 days for tenants to catch up on rent. In Rhode Island, a landlord must wait at least 20 days before seeking to evict a tenant. In Washington D.C., tenants have 30 days to catch up on rent.

If you’re a commercial tenant here in Washington state, even after losing your case in court, you can pay all rent owed within 30 days and ask the court to allow you to stay. If you’re a business, you get flexibility. If you’re fifty bucks short and three days past due, you get shown the door.

We are sensitive to the fact that landlords may be delayed in obtaining rent. But of the states that provide fourteen-day notice periods, none is among the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates. By law, a nonjudicial foreclosure sale cannot occur less than 190 days after a property owner defaults on a mortgage; under the same law, the property owner can pay all that is owed up to 11 days before that sale to recover the home. Weighed against the needs of tenants, extending the time period to 14 or 21 days is a reasonable sacrifice to prevent evictions and stem the tide of homelessness in Washington.

Sen. Patty Kuderer represents Washington’s 48th Legislative District and Chairs the Senate Housing Stability & Affordability Committee.

Rep. Nicole Macri represents Washington’s 43rd Legislative District and has spent more than 20 years championing solutions for housing and homelessness.