Walla Walla City Council voted down a proposed moratorium on commercial and residential evictions Wednesday.
Council members Steve Moss, Myron Huie, Susan Nakonieczny, Tom Scribner and Ted Kohler voted against the moratorium; Council members Riley Clubb and Yazmin Bahena, were in favor.
The temporary ban was suggested by Council members Clubb and Nakonieczny to address the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” edict.
The idea was to ensure that people who are now unemployed because of the governor’s proclamation would not be forced to leave their homes and be exposed to the virus because they cannot afford to pay rent.
The moratorium would have suspended commercial business evictions as well, an action considered to assist local business owners in keeping their businesses alive and ready to reopen once the proclamation ended.
This moratorium has been enacted in Seattle by its mayor.
Clubb said he was in support of the moratorium. The coronavirus situation is bizarre, he said, and it cannot be addressed from just an economic perspective or a public health crisis perspective, because it is both.
“The normal solutions to an economic recession just don’t work right now,” he said. “Normally what you would try to do is you try to get people to work, you try to stimulate the economy, and frankly what we want people to do right now is just to stay home.”
He said the goal for a solution is to freeze.
“The economic shock, the financial loss of income is going to happen,” Clubb said. “We won’t be able to prevent the fact that there will be people who have this disruption to their income, and that is going to impair their ability to make a payment on their obligations whether it’s rent or mortgages or any other obligations.”
What about the people who are expecting these payments and what do we do for them?
“The loss has happened,” Clubb said. “Do you want the loss to fall on people who are being asked to leave their home? Or to shift that up the ladder, if you will, where those people are holding properties that are not their own home, and the consequence for them won’t be necessarily leaving their home.”
He voted in favor of the moratorium because it would have extended the governor’s 30-day statewide moratorium on evictions for residential tenants established mid-March and would not allow landlords to charge late payment fees or interest on dues.
The moratorium would not have excused the non-payment of rent or lease agreements, he said.
Huie said he was against Council enacting the moratorium because it would not change the way a landlord deals with a tenant not being able to pay rent.
“I think the idea that the city imposing this moratorium smacks against the logic of the landlord,” Huie said. “If he (landlord) knows that the tenant can’t pay, he is going to have to make some sort of concessions, because if he does have to decide to evict them and wait for the legal process to take its course, who is he going to replace it with?”
After much consideration, the majority of the Council decided it was best not to interfere with landlord and tenant disputes, allowing the people of Walla Walla to work out arrangements for payments that are reasonable and benefit both parties.
“For the most part, I am seeing a vast majority of the landlords are being understanding and caring and kind people and are working with tenants, both in residential and commercial,” Nakonieczny said.
She said a lot of low-interest loans are available as well as unemployment for self-employed people. However, it’s yet to be seen, so a lot of the businesses are still rather nervous about everything.
“I have heard that some commercial landlords who are not local are basically not bending or making any changes to the rent,” she said.
Nakonieczny said she was in favor of the moratorium until she changed her vote toward the end of the Council’s discussion.
Under Gov. Inslee’s proclamation, residential evictions cannot proceed until May 4. A notice that the resident has to vacate their home is not allowed, and a landlord cannot start a proceeding to evict the resident.
Courts are currently closed for commercial evictions. A landlord can go through the steps of eviction, but the hearing will be scheduled when the courts reopen.
With these two factors already in place, members of Council did not see the moratorium as urgent.
Moss said he was not prepared to vote in favor of the moratorium because his concerns are addressed through the governor’s proclamation.
“I am of the opinion that while the local courts are currently closed, the Cares Act hopefully starts to be streamlined and will become more available to local businesses. The unemployment insurance, stimulus checks will hopefully be coming out soon,” he said.
Scribner said, depending on how the situation unfolds going forward, Council could still return to the ordinance and vote again or vote on a stronger ordinance.
“This is a tough decision for me, but one of the reasons why I am as comfortable under the circumstances as I can be, and that is not totally comfortable, in voting no, is that a no vote does not foreclose us,” Scribner said.
So far, no one on Council has heard of a commercial business being evicted, but these circumstances could change, and that could bring this discussion back on the table.