Seattle landlords sue Inslee, Durkan over eviction moratoriums

A small group of Seattle landlords is suing Mayor Jenny Durkan and Gov. Jay Inslee over the constitutionality of city and state eviction moratoriums amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The suit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, comes two days after the federal Centers for Disease Control initiated a nationwide eviction moratorium through the end of 2020, The Seattle Times reported. In Seattle, the moratorium has been extended to December to protect people who can’t pay rent.

Ethan Blevins, who is representing the landlords, said the problem with the moratorium is it expects landlords to shoulder the burden of the pandemic rather than putting the burden on the public as a whole.

Tara Lee, an Inslee spokesperson, said the governor welcomes the court’s review of the state’s eviction moratorium, which she called “a difficult but necessary measure to prevent widespread homelessness during this unprecedented pandemic.”

She noted that the moratorium does not erase the debt of past due rent.

Durkan’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request from the newspaper for comment.

Edmund Witter, managing attorney for the Housing Justice Project at the King County Bar Association, doesn’t expect the lawsuit to go very far. Similar challenges based on constitutionality have been struck down by federal courts such as the Southern District of New York in June, he said.

Witter noted reports that said in August, at least, more than 90% of people still paid rent around the country, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Osho Berman, whose LLC is one of the parties in the lawsuit, owns and operates low-income housing around Seattle and King County and says the eviction moratoriums have made it impossible to keep his more vulnerable tenants safe from others who struggle with mental health or drug use issues.

However, it’s not impossible for King County landlords to evict a tenant based on the tenant’s behavior. Data from the King County Bar Association says since April, 48 tenants have been evicted for a lease violation or behavior issue.