Tomorrow afternoon, Council member Sawant’s proposed ban on “winter evictions” comes up for final approval by the Seattle City Council. Since it was voted out of committee two and a half weeks ago, it has finally started to attract the attention it deserves, including some organized opposition from the Durkan Administration.
When considered in Council member Sawant’s committee, both Council members Strauss and Lewis said that they were working on amendments they intended to bring forward before the final vote. That vote was originally scheduled for last Monday, but Sawant agreed to push it out for a week while her colleagues continued to work on their proposed amendments.
At the moment, there are three amendments up for consideration tomorrow:
- one from Sawant that clarifies the bill’s legal approach: it is a defense to an eviction court proceeding that a defendant may assert to prevent the eviction from going forward. It also adds one more exception to the ban: where the landlord “seeks to reduce the number of individuals who reside in one dwelling unit to comply with the legal limit after receipt of a notice of violation of the Title 23 restriction on the number of individuals allowed to reside in a dwelling unit.” Sawant’s original bill provided for no exceptions, but in committee it was adjusted to allow for evictions largely in the cases where either the tenant is violating the law or the eviction is required in order for the landlord to comply with the law.
- one from Lewis that creates a new mitigation fund to provide rent assistance during the months that the eviction ban is in place. The fund could provide funds either to a low-income tenant, or to a landlord. But in order to qualify for funds, the rented unit must be rent-restricted, the landlord must demonstrate that the tenant does not have financial resources available to pay rent (and it’s unclear how a landlord would get that documentation), and the landlord must agree not to report the tenant’s delinquency on rent to credit reporting agencies. But there’s another issue: the amendment doesn’t actually appropriate funding into the new rent mitigation fund; this amendment is meaningless until there is money in the fund.
- one from Pedersen that would exempt landlords who own 4 or fewer rental units, the logic being that only larger landlords would have the financial depth to manage the loss of revenues from some tenants for up to five months. According to the city, over 20,000 of the city’s 32,000 registered rental properties are single-unit properties (out of 367,800 housing units altogether in the city, of which about 53% are rented out), many of which are owned by a small landlord. That suggests that small landlords’ ability to withstand a loss of revenue for up to five months is a significant concern, but it also raises the question of how large a carve-out this would be. Some Council members have expressed their desire to protect small landlords from the financial consequences of an eviction ban, and it will be interesting to see how many of them (including Sawant) are willing to vote for an outright exemption for them.
There are no proposed amendments from Strauss yet; we will see if they appear tomorrow, or if he requests another delay on the final vote. There are also no amendments to try to shorten the time period of the ban to less than five months.
In the meantime, last week the Durkan Administration came out in opposition to the bill, with the Directors of the Department of Construction and Inspections, the Office of Housing, and the Human Services Department along with the Executive Director of the Seattle Housing Authority all writing a joint letter to the Seattle City Council espressing their concerns — and urging instead that the Council redirect their efforts into expanding funding for rental assistance. Their letter raises concerns about the legality of the ban, but also about the potential negative effects to the rental community/market and the challenges in operationalizing/enforcing it. Sawant responded with her own letter, accusing the Directors of making baseless, speculative claims and doing her best to debunk them. Interestingly, Sawant’s letter also makes her ultimate goal explicit: “I support ending all evictions”.
We’ll see how this all plays out tomorrow; but don’t be surprised if the Council kicks the can down the road for at least another week. Assuming it passes, we can expect that it will immediately face legal challenges in court.