A Washington state court struck down portions of two city of Seattle ordinances meant to help tenants stay in their homes in certain circumstances, but mostly maintained the laws.
At issue were three ordinances — a restriction on eviction during three winter months, another prohibiting eviction for nonpayment of rent for six months after the end of the coronavirus civil emergency and a law requiring that a landlord accept installment payments on unpaid rent for “a certain period of time” after the emergency ended.
The three laws were challenged by the Rental Housing Association of Washington and other landlords.
The Court of Appeals mostly upheld the ordinances, but axed specific provisions including a prohibition of accrual of interest on unpaid rent during the civil emergency — and for one year after it ended — as well as a section in the six-month ban preventing landlords from arguing that a tenant could, in fact, pay rent but did not.
The second, called self-certification, gave tenants a defense in court against eviction for not paying rent because they couldn’t afford it but did not give landlords the ability to test whether or not that was true.
“We invalidate it on that ground only,” the judges wrote. “We otherwise uphold the ordinances and affirm the judgement for the City.”
The Seattle Times reported that the City Attorney’s Office has not yet decided whether or not to appeal the ruling.
The ordinances were meant to protect Seattle tenants from losing housing during and immediately after the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Jay Inslee has not announced when the state of emergency — originally declared in 2020 — will end. Mayor Bruce Harrell ended the city’s eviction moratorium at the end of February, with the support of the majority of the City Council.
At that time, Councilmember Kshama Sawant supported extending the eviction moratorium through the end of the civil emergency. Councilmember Lisa Herbold offered a compromise that would have kept the moratorium alive until April 30. Both proposals were ultimately rejected.
Local governments have tried to shield tenants from eviction, arguing that the public health crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic made it crucial to keep people housed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also attempted to create a blanket moratorium, although the Supreme Court struck it down on Aug. 26, 2021.
According to Eviction Lab, a project of Princeton University, there were 1.55 million fewer eviction filings than “normal” while the CDC eviction ban was in place. In cities that Eviction Lab specifically monitors, eviction filings were 49 percent of the historical average.
Read more of the Mar. 23-29, 2022 issue.