A Nevada-based property-management company that issued eviction notices to tenants in Tacoma has agreed to pay nearly $350,000, including almost $300,000 directly to tenants in the form of refunds, payments and rent forgiveness, to resolve a lawsuit filed by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
It was the first lawsuit to enforce one of Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency proclamations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor on March 18 established a moratorium on evictions for the inability to pay rent. The proclamation specifically prohibits landlords from issuing notices to pay or vacate during the effective period of Inslee’s proclamation, according to a statement from Ferguson’s office.
Nevada-based JRK Residential Group — a real estate investment firm that manages property in 20 states, and whose portfolio represents about $6 billion of investment capital — violated the governor’s proclamation in April by issuing the notices to at least 14 tenants of The Boulders at Puget Sound, a multibuilding Tacoma apartment complex containing more than 700 units, according to the suit.
JRK said in a statement Thursday that it had taken steps after the pandemic began to “ease the resulting burdens” on its tenants. The company claimed it had “halted all eviction actions, waived late fees, reimbursed third-party ACH fees to make it easier for tenants to pay bills from home, began offering short-term lease renewals with more flexibility, froze lease renewal rent increases, and ensured our tenants could continue to access the essential services our team provides.”
“While JRK is proud of these steps, we recognize we could have done more,” the statement said. “To that end, we have worked with the State to further improve our policies and procedures and to offer our residents financial compensation to ease their burden during this time.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed April 20, also asserted that JRK sent unfair, deceptive and harassing communications to more than 1,400 Washington state tenants.
As part of a consent decree filed Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court, JRK will be required to forgive or pay back April rent for the 14 tenants of The Boulders at Puget Sound and pay $246,900 to 1,441 other tenants, among other measures.
The company also will be prohibited from issuing 14-day notices to pay or vacate beyond the expiration of the governor’s current proclamation, through at least July 31.
In addition to the payments to tenants, JRK Residential will pay $50,000 in costs and attorney fees to the AG’s office.
“JRK Residential knew about the governor’s proclamation, and ignored it,” Ferguson said. “This large, sophisticated corporation knew the law, and still threatened to evict tenants. This resolution makes those tenants whole.”
Ferguson urged anyone who believes their property-management company or landlord is violating the eviction moratorium to file a complaint with his office.
“During this time of hardship and uncertainty, the moratorium on evictions is intended to help families and individuals keep a roof over their heads,” Inslee said in a news release from Ferguson’s office. “Any property owners who attempt to remove people from their homes and skirt this order are breaking the law. I thank AG Ferguson and his team for enforcing the eviction moratorium.”