by Carolyn Bick
On Monday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced an extension of the City’s current eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. The Washington State Legislature is also considering statewide tenant protections, as the March 31 end date for the statewide eviction moratorium looms on the horizon and no indication from Gov. Jay Inslee that he will extend the eviction freeze. The statewide protections include right to counsel legislation similar to what the Seattle City Council was also slated to vote on Monday evening.
Durkan originally signed an emergency order putting in place the moratorium in March 2020, when the pandemic first began. Since then, she has extended the moratorium once, changing its end date from the end of 2020 to March 31, 2021. In the March 15, 2021, press release announcing the new extension, Durkan tied her decision to President Joe Biden’s recently passed American Rescue Plan as well as almost $23 million in federal aid the U.S. Treasury released earlier this year. The American Rescue Plan financial relief package provides a total of $1.9 trillion across the U.S. in financial assistance to individuals as well as state and local governments, including rental assistance.
While the eviction moratorium is in place, property owners may not evict tenants, except in the event of health and safety issues. However, as PubliCola reported last year, landlords in Washington State have been issuing eviction notices in spite of the current statewide ban, in part by finding “behavioral grounds” that allegedly put others’ health and safety at risk. As PubliCola reported, the number of health and safety evictions increased after landlords were barred from evicting tenants based on late rent payments.
The moratorium also bars property owners from adding on late fees, interest, or other charges due to late payment while the moratorium is in place. Landlords are also “encouraged” to offer flexible payment plans, but tenants are still legally obligated to pay rent. The mayor’s office press release also says that tenants who face eviction for non-payment of rent after the moratorium is lifted have the option of demonstrating financial hardship to avoid eviction, but it is immediately unclear what would constitute “financial hardship” that would qualify a person to protection from eviction.
The press release said that any residential tenant who has received an eviction notice should contact the Renting in Seattle hotline at 206‐684‐5700 or submit a complaint online.
The Seattle City Council was also slated to vote today on a resolution to extend the City’s moratorium on evictions through the end of 2021, but as of this writing has not taken the vote. The Council is also scheduled to vote on the so-called right to counsel legislation, introduced by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. If approved, the legislation would guarantee a tenant’s right to legal counsel, if faced with eviction.
The Washington State House recently voted to pass legislation to protect tenants by barring property owners from issuing “no-cause” evictions. The Washington State Senate also passed a bill that waives late fees for someone who cannot pay rent during the pandemic, guarantees a tenant’s right to counsel, and expands access to rental and housing assistance programs. However, the Senate’s legislation is decidedly narrower than the original form of the bill, which included a two-year extension to the eviction moratorium. Legislators who opposed the bill said they did so on the grounds that its protections focused too much on renters and not enough on property owners.
As of this writing, Inslee has given no indication whether he will extend the current moratorium on evictions, which is slated to end on March 31.
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