Seattle City Council passes moratorium on winter evictions

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council Monday passed a moratorium on evictions during the winter months.

The bill’s intention is to keep renters from being evicted and ending up homeless on the streets.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant calls the passage of the legislation a landmark event, but she also says a moratorium will likely only delay the eviction process.

It took nearly two hours and half a dozen amendments for the council to pass the bill.

“In most cases, the evicted tenants owed one month’s rent or less,” said Sawant.

Council central staff says the ordinance is modeled after somewhat similar legislation in other states, but Sawant says it’s a first for Washington state.

This legislation bans evictions from Dec. 1 to March 1, aiming to eliminate the risk to those being evicted from being pushed onto the streets into dangerously cold weather. Sawant initially called for the ban to be in effect from November - April, but the council amended the timeline before passing the moratorium.

“When people can’t pay their rent, we work with them to keep them in their homes,” said Jessica Froehlich, a business owner and a landlord in the city of Seattle. “We want people to stay in their homes. We don’t want our units moving over and over.”

A number of amendments were added to the bill before council approved it. Those amendments could help pay landlords like Froehlich in the event her tenants do not.

One lawmaker in Olympia has proposed competing legislation that would ban cities and counties in our state from enacting policies that keep landlords from evicting tenants during certain times of any given year.

Phil Fortunado’s bill says an eviction moratorium violates the constitution, private property rights and instead only pushes evictions later down the line.

Meanwhile, city council will have to revisit the moratorium next fall to pay landlords who are battling their tenants with eviction.

“The cost estimate varies depending on how many months this legislation will cover,” said councilmember Andrew Lewis. “In the event of five months, $1.6 million, in the event of three months it would be about half a million dollars in financial assistance.”

It’s unlikely Mayor Jenny Durkan will support the eviction moratorium.

A spokesperson for Durkan’s office cited laws already on the books should help renters avoid eviction, and the legislation will likely face an expensive legal battle.

Kyle Woodring, spokesperson from the Rental Housing Association of Washington, opposed the eviction moratorium and shared this statement with Q13 News:

“We would have liked to see the Council pass legislation that would build on the success of rental assistance programs to assist the small number of vulnerable residents who are at risk of eviction. Instead, we have another onerous law that doesn’t help solve our housing situation and makes it even harder to rent an affordable apartment in the City.”