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City of Spokane halts all foreclosures, evictions

Mayor Nadine Woodward signed an amended emergency declaration  Monday that places a moratorium on all foreclosures and commercial evictions in Spokane. She is shown here on March 11, 2020, at Spokane City Hall. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The city of Spokane will temporarily ban all foreclosures and evictions of commercial tenants through April, adding to protections ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.

With swift support from the Spokane City Council, Mayor Nadine Woodward amended her week-old emergency declaration Monday to place a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions of residential and commercial tenants.

Council President Breean Beggs said Monday that the new declaration “fills some of the gaps” in a county judge’s emergency order and Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive order – both issued last week – that placed a 30-day moratorium on evictions of residential tenants who fail to pay rent amid the economic and public health fallout caused by the coronavirus.

The mayor’s declaration, which expires on April 30, prohibits mortgage holders from taking any foreclosure action on a property within city limits, although it does allow for the accumulation of late fees. Last week, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a 60-day moratorium on foreclosures, but it applied only to single family homeowners with a mortgage backed by the Federal Housing Administration.

The foreclosure moratorium assuages the anxiety of property owners, who have asked that any eviction ban be matched with a halt on foreclosures.

Unlike the governor’s order, the mayor’s declaration includes commercial tenants in the eviction moratorium. In further executive action on Monday, Inslee ordered all nonessential businesses to close, deepening the economic impact of the coronavirus response on commercial renters.

The mayor’s new order prohibits property owners from carrying out any unlawful detainer eviction – which can include eviction for failure to pay rent – or issuing any termination notice to a lessee of commercial or residential property. An exception is made if the property owner can demonstrate that the tenant poses an immediate risk to the property or health and safety of neighbors.

During the moratorium, property owners can not charge late fees or interest to residential tenants.

Last week, a Spokane County Superior Court judge issued an emergency order that prohibited previously-ordered unlawful detainer evictions at least until April 27. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich quickly voiced his support for the court’s action and vowed to not enforce evictions county-wide.

Beggs noted that the court order applied only to unlawful detainer evictions, but most tenants are removed from their residences through a notice of termination – which are banned under Woodward’s declaration.

“Having the broad order against notices of termination, as well, is significant,” Beggs said.

Describing the situation as “uncharted waters,” Council Member Michael Cathcart said the action is an attempt to “try to hit pause to preserve where we’re at so we can start off at a strong position once this crisis is over.”

“This isn’t just a standard market downtown … this is something much bigger and much more substantial,” Cathcart said.

Council Member Betsy Wilkerson praised the administration and council for working quickly to adopt the new declaration, as did City Administrator Wes Crago.

“We’re enduring a health crisis and we’re enduring an economic crisis,” Crago said.

The mayor’s amended declaration also calls on – but does not require – businesses to create designated shopping hours for at-risk individuals, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Though it expires on April 30, the city has the option to extend Woodward’s declaration.