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As tenant protection ends, landlords can evict without mediation again

As tenant protection ends, landlords can evict without mediation again

The Eviction Resolution Pilot Program required landlords in six counties, including Snohomish, to discuss options before kicking out tenants.

Landlords in Snohomish County no longer have to meet with tenants for mediation before pursuing eviction, after a pandemic-era program intended to reduce evictions ended this summer.

Over the past two years, Volunteers of America processed 10,203 cases in Snohomish County and mediated 608 meetings between landlords and tenants. In cases where the nonprofit knew the outcome, 95% of tenants stayed in their homes.

The program was “incredibly successful for what it was set up to do,” said Donnell Austin, interim director for the Volunteers of America Dispute Resolution Center.

Now, landlords can go back to evicting tenants without a face-to-face meeting.

Mediations were valuable because tenants who were behind on rent might also avoid communication with landlords, she said.

“The major issue was communication, above and beyond money,” Austin said.

Lawmakers did not renew the program, and the 2021 law funded the program through June. Volunteers of America canceled all mediations previously scheduled for July.

State Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, said she was sad to see the program go.

But the pilot program was challenging from an “operational standpoint,” she said. Dispute resolution centers weren’t always getting the staff and the amount of training they needed, she said.

In November 2021, four people at Volunteers of America were working on the program for Snohomish, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties. Over the next 18 months, that increased to 12.

Snohomish County required dispute resolution centers to schedule a mediation within 21 days of the landlord filing a notice under the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program, or ERPP.

In practice, mediations were often scheduled at least a month out, Snohomish County Legal Services attorney Olivia Clark said.

“Sometimes we were able to get them in two weeks,” Austin said. “Sometimes, to be honest, it took a couple months.”

The county’s executive departments don’t comprehensively track eviction rates, and don’t know whether evictions have trended up since the end of the program.

In 2021, state lawmakers created the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program to staunch “the risk of mass evictions flowing from the COVID-19 emergency.” Starting in November 2021, landlords in six counties with high eviction rates, including Snohomish, had to give tenants the opportunity to meet before pursuing an eviction.

The six counties — Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane and Thurston — collectively account for 80% of evictions in the state.

Washington counties processed a total of 78,102 cases involving 170,919 tenants and landlords, according to Resolution Washington data.

In Snohomish County, the Dispute Resolution Center moderated the virtual meetings. Through mediation, tenants could learn about rental assistance or come up with payment plans with their landlords. They could also agree to leave their building early in exchange for the landlord not filing for eviction — parting ways with a clean rental history.

Read the complete article here.

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