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Another legal win for governor in case challenging eviction moratorium

A pedestrian walks by a building advertising an apartment for rent. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The state may be on track to reopen by June 30th, but that didn’t stop small landlords from heading to court over Governor Inslee’s eviction moratorium.

Snohomish County landlord says tenants are ‘taking advantage’ of eviction moratorium

“Regarding the governor’s authority, especially to continue a proclamation like the eviction moratorium for longer than 30 days without coming back to the Legislature,” said Chester Baldwin with the Washington Business Property Associations, the group that was challenging the order on behalf of property owners.

That effort came to an abrupt end, at least for now, in Thurston County Court Friday, after oral arguments were presented from both sides and the state came out the winner.

“State courts have consistently upheld the Governor’s emergency powers, and today’s decision is no exception,” said Brionna Aho at the State Attorney General’s Office.

“The court granted summary judgment to the state on all the plaintiff’s claims, upholding the moratorium as a lawful exercise of Governor’s emergency powers,” she added.

The nearly 15-month-long eviction moratorium that prevents landlords from booting tenants for unpaid rent during the pandemic emergency was originally meant to protect against a tidal wave of evictions due to the mass of layoffs and furloughs last year when COVID-19 first hit. Some people have seen their finances recover since then, but certainly not all renters.

But the argument here is not just about the need to avoid mass evictions.

“We didn’t have any actual reform to the governor’s authority (emergency powers) this session. But we believe, even with no new reform, that the governor has never had the authority to extend the moratorium longer than 30 days without going back to the Legislature for approval. And you know how we know that? I worked on several other proclamations with the governor’s office, every other one of those, they’ve come back to the industry and had to deal with us and work with us on extending those proclamations because they had to come through the Legislature,” Baldwin explained.

But it seems Baldwin was over-confident – at least in the eyes of the superior court judge.

Baldwin had promised an appeal should they lose this round, and the WBPA also has a separate, federal lawsuit that is similar still pending in Spokane.

Baldwin contends there is nothing in statute that gives the governor the authority to extend any emergency proclamation longer than 30 days.

“The Legislature has given the governor authority to act for a 30-day window because there’s an emergency. But there is no reason that after that 30 days that the governor cannot come back to the Legislature, and he’s just chosen not to in this case, because he knows the answer he’ll get, and he doesn’t want to hear that answer,” Baldwin opined.

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