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Washington Supreme Court Provides First Guidance on CDC Eviction Moratorium Days Before the Emergency Measure is Set to Expire

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Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, scant interpretive guidance has been provided to help businesses, individuals, and attorneys to navigate the various emergency orders and moratoriums concerning evictions in Washington. On July 22, just over a week before the CDC’s eviction moratorium is slated to end on August 1, the Washington Supreme Court issued its first decision interpreting that moratorium, Nyman v. Hanley. Nyman dealt with a unique set of circumstances and highlighted an apparent disparity between the CDC and Washington State eviction moratoriums with regard to owner-occupancy of rental premises and holdover tenancies.

In Nyman, the landlord of a residential tenancy sought to evict the tenant so that the landlord could occupy the home. While there is an exception to Washington’s eviction moratorium for landlords who intend to sell or occupy premises themselves, the CDC moratorium lacks such an exception. However, while the landlord’s initial eviction efforts played out, the tenant’s lease also expired under its own terms. The landlord then successfully argued that the tenant’s continued holdover possession of the premises after the expiration of the lease constituted a breach of lease – which bars a tenant from claiming protection under the plain language of the CDC’s moratorium. Under this reasoning, the Court ordered that the CDC moratorium did not apply, and that the tenant could be evicted pursuant to the exception in the Washington State moratorium for landlords who intend to sell or occupy premises themselves.

Given that this holding applies to a narrow set of circumstances (a landlord who desires to sell or occupy a premises themselves, coinciding with the natural expiration of the lease), and that the CDC’s moratorium is less than a week from expiring, the effects of the Nyman decision may be limited. However, as the last eighteen months have shown, we cannot be sure what is around the corner. And, if for any reason applicable moratoriums and emergency orders are extended yet again, Nyman may come to be very relevant in their interpretation.