SPOKANE, Wash. — A low-income housing provider based in North Idaho has agreed to pay $50,000 after evidence revealed that the company illegally threated Spokane County tenants with eviction in April 2020.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a lawsuit in August 2020 against Whitewater Creek, Inc., based in Hayden, Idaho, asserting that the company violated Gov. Jay Inslee's proclamation on evictions.
In March 2020, Gov. Inslee's proclamation established a moratorium on evictions for the inability to pay rent as Washington residents deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It specifically prohibits landlords from threatening to evict tenants for unpaid rent and specifies that they have to enter into repayment plans with tenants.
Gov. Inslee most recently extended the eviction moratorium through the end of March 2021.
The current proclamation also extends the state emergency rent assistance program by incorporating newly approved federal rental assistance funding. The goal is to provide a path for landlords, property owners and property managers to be able to initiate an application for rental assistance directly.
In order to resolve the lawsuit, Whitewater Creek entered into a legally enforceable agreement to make the $50,000 payment and will take additional accountability measures to avoid future violations of the law, Ferguson's office said in a press release on Tuesday.
Whitewater Creek is now legally required to train employees on tenants’ rights, and must give notice to Ferguson's office over the next three years when it initiates eviction proceedings or refers a tenant to its landlord-tenant attorneys for non-payment of rent.
“Due to the pandemic, many Washingtonians are struggling,” Ferguson said. “Whitewater Creek is a sophisticated company. Nonetheless, it illegally threatened its tenants, most of whom have limited means. This resolution holds them accountable and sends a message to others that they need to follow the law.”
Evidence gathered by Ferguson's office revealed that Whitewater Creek illegally threatened at least five residents of its properties with eviction at the direction of majority owner Maryann Prescott. Emails showed that she wanted tenants to know they would be evicted for unpaid rent and fees as soon as court reopened for eviction proceedings.
According to Ferguson's office, Whitewater Creek personnel did not disclose to its tenants that the moratorium protected them from being threatened with future eviction.
The real estate company manages and owns 1,000 low-income housing units across 12 housing complexes in Eastern Washington. Many of their properties were developed with millions of dollars in taxpayer funding in the form of tax-credit equity and tax-exempt notes authorized by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.
Washingtonians who have questions about the governor’s eviction moratorium or who think their rights may have been violated can fill out the online form here.
Landlords who have questions about the eviction moratorium or their rights under the proclamation can contact Ferguson's office here.