Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed suit against a property management company in Spokane for violation of the eviction moratorium in the state and threatening residents with eviction for unpaid rent.
Ferguson sued Whitewater Creek, an Idaho company that manages low-income housing complexes in Spokane, according to a release.
“Emails obtained by the attorney general’s office show that at the express direction of Maryann Prescott, a majority owner of Whitewater Creek, Whitewater Creek personnel verbally threatened at least four residents at properties it was responsible for,” Ferguson said in the release.
“Prescott wanted tenants to know they would be evicted for unpaid rent and/or fees as soon as courts reopened for eviction proceedings. These residents were also informed that they would be responsible for unspecified legal fees associated with their evictions.
“These threats came one month after Gov. Jay Inslee’s eviction moratorium was well-known throughout the state. Whitewater Creek personnel did not disclose the eviction moratorium protected the residents from such action,” according to the release.
An April 20 email Prescott sent to a Whitewater Creek site manager asked to, “confirm you explained that (the resident) will be evicted for past due rent when courts reopen.” Ms. Prescott received the response, “yes she did tell them all about the eviction.” On April 21, Prescott sent another email noting a site manager needed “to hold these (residents) accountable” to pay past-due rent.
Violation of eviction moratorium in Washington
“Washingtonians are struggling, yet Whitewater Creek illegally threatened tenants with evictions in the middle of a pandemic,” Ferguson said in the release. “They violated the clear text of the governor’s emergency proclamation. Their actions were cruel, unacceptable and illegal. They will be held accountable.”
Whitewater Creek, Inc. is a Hayden, Idaho-based real-estate company that, through a number of related entities, 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.
The attorney general’s office received complaints from multiple tenants at Whitewater Creek properties alleging various violations of the eviction moratorium and the governor’s proclamations, including verbal threats of eviction for non-payment of rent or other fees, according to the release.
In April, one tenant suspected that the threats were not being memorialized in writing to avoid evidence of violating the eviction proclamations.
Another resident asked to make a partial payment or go on a repayment plan based on the federal stimulus payment she expected. Whitewater Creek informed the resident, who is a single mother of young children, she would be evicted the day courts reopened for eviction proceedings if she did not pay the full balance owed.
When she attempted to contact Whitewater Creek’s corporate office to dispute the eviction threat and find out how much the legal fees would be, she was informed that she would be “charged with harassment” if she did not stop calling. This resident expressed fear of retaliation for attempting to contest the eviction threat and also worried she would lose custody of her children if evicted.
Around the same time in April, Whitewater Creek personnel threatened another resident with eviction for being one month behind on the balance she owed. After the resident, who is an unemployed single mother with two young children, informed Whitewater Creek staff that she had just been approved for unemployment and hoped to soon be caught up on payments by the end of the month, a Whitewater Creek property manager instructed her to “turn in any monies (she has) to help avoid eviction.”
The Attorney General’s Office sent a letter in May requesting, among other actions, that Whitewater Creek immediately notify all residents the Emergency Proclamations prohibit threats of eviction and that Whitewater Creek would comply with the Proclamations. Instead of issuing such notices and providing copies to the Attorney General’s Office, as requested, Whitewater Creek consistently and falsely denied that it threatened to evict anyone, contrary to internal email communications confirming that it threatened residents with eviction at Prescott’s direction.
This is the second lawsuit Ferguson filed to enforce the eviction moratorium. The previous lawsuit against JRK Residential, a Nevada-based property management company with units in Tacoma, Silverdale and Marysville, resulted in May of a payment of nearly $350,000 — including almost $300,000 directly to tenants in the form of refunds, payments and rent forgiveness.