Seattle City Council OKs Ban on Wintertime Evictions

Homeless in winter in Seattle
Homeless camp on Seattle streets in winter
Image: Gillfoto/ Wikimedia Commons

If it becomes law, the council’s legislation will impose a moratorium on evictions between Dec. 1 and March 1, with some exceptions.

The Seattle Times

By Daniel Beekman

The Seattle City Council voted Monday to prohibit some residential evictions during the winter, but altered what had been originally proposed by reducing the number of months the ban would be in effect.

Before voting 7-0, the council trimmed the period covered by the legislation from five months to three months; limited the rule to low- and moderate-income tenants; and exempted landlords with four or fewer housing units. The legislation is meant to prevent most evictions during the coldest months for people behind on their rent.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, expressed disappointment with the amendments, calling them loopholes, but still celebrated the outcome. Sawant has described winter evictions as cruel, noting they disproportionately affect women and people of color.

“This is huge and I think we should be proud of our movement,” she said.

Councilmembers M. Lorena González and Debora Juarez were absent Monday.

Mayor Jenny Durkan, who warned the council against enacting the legislation, could sign it into law, let it become law without her signature or veto it, in which case the council would have to vote again. Six council votes are needed to override a veto.

The mayor is evaluating the amended legislation but is “disappointed that the Council did not want to engage in a robust discussion on programs that will legally and actually prevent evictions,” her office said after Monday’s vote.

City Council and the mayor share the same goal: helping people facing evictions and keeping them in their homes, especially during the winter months, ” Durkan spokesman Ernesto Apreza said in an earlier statement. “But the mayor has been advised a legal fight is almost certain and could be costly to taxpayers.”

“Mayor Durkan believes we should focus on directing tenants to proven … programs that already provide millions of dollars to individuals and families to keep them in their homes,” Apreza added.

Such programs helped prevent many hundreds of evictions last year, Durkan’s office said.

If it becomes law, the council’s legislation will impose a moratorium on evictions between Dec. 1 and March 1, with some exceptions. Sawant had proposed a longer period, between Nov. 1 and April 1.

Some other United States jurisdictions restrict evictions based on bad weather, but no other U.S. city has a months-long ban, according to the council.

Seattle’s legislation would apply to tenants who miss rent payments and to tenants accused of violating certain lease terms. It wouldn’t apply to tenants engaging in criminal or nuisance activities, nor to owner-occupied properties.

Because of the amendments Monday, requested by the Seattle Housing Authority and nonprofit housing providers, it also wouldn’t apply to tenants proven to be engaging in behavior making their neighbors unsafe.

Councilmember Dan Strauss sponsored the amendments reducing the months covered by the legislation and limiting it to low- and moderate-income tenants (those at or below the area’s median income). Councilmember Alex Pedersen sponsored the amendment exempting small landlords.

Supporters have said the moratorium is needed to keep people down on their luck from being forced into the cold. They say most people facing eviction just need more time to catch up on rent.

“People are dying in the streets,” Jon Manella, a Tenants Union of Washington board member, told the council during a public comment session Monday.

Critics have said landlords need to make sure they can pay their own bills and contend Seattle should help tenants facing eviction by making more rent assistance available. They’ve also said there could be unintended consequences, suggesting the moratorium could saddle tenants with more debt in the long run and cause mom-and-pop landlords to sell their rentals.

I have faced homelessness myself. … However, I’m also a landlord,” said Jessica Froehlich, who owns a six-unit apartment building with her husband. “We have a mortgage. … We cannot afford to cover peoples’ rent for five, six months.”

Under the council’s legislation, a landlord could still file for evictions during the winter months, and a tenant in that situation would have to respond in court by citing the moratorium as a defense. A judge could require the landlord to refile at a later date or could delay the eviction.

Tenants would still be responsible for rent during the months covered by the moratorium. Fees could be charged during that time and debt could accrue.

The legislation would augment an existing Seattle law that dictates the circumstances under which landlords can and can’t evict tenants.

The King County Sheriff’s Office received 3,329 eviction orders from King County Superior Court last year and enforced 1,191 of them, including 551 at Seattle addresses (some unincorporated King County areas have Seattle addresses).

In many cases, tenants served notice by their landlords leave immediately, so an eviction is never filed in court, and in other cases, tenants leave or come to terms with their landlords before ordered evictions are enforced by sheriff’s deputies.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis sponsored an amendment Monday creating the framework for an additional fund to help when low-income tenants can’t afford to keep up with their rent.

(c)2020 The Seattle Times
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