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Seattle Council bans some winter evictions, but mayor will have final say

caption: Snowy Capitol Hill in Seattle.
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Snowy Capitol Hill in Seattle.

The Seattle City Council has passed a bill that would ban evictions during winter months for some tenants in the city.

The proposed legislation was heavily amended before it was passed Monday, with Council members narrowing its scope.

The original bill called for a ban on evictions from November to April.

The ordinance, proposed by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, is intended to prevent people who fall behind on rent from being evicted during the coldest, wettest months of the year and potentially becoming homeless.

An amendment from Councilmember Dan Strauss shortened the eviction ban to February.

A second amendment from Strauss also limited the application of the bill to low and moderate income tenants.

An exemption, proposed by Councilmember Alex Pederson, was also made for landlords who own four or fewer units in Seattle.

Sawant said she was disappointed with some of the amendments made by her fellow council members. But she called it historic legislation Monday.

“At the end of the day, what we will have achieved if this legislation is voted through is landmark legislation that has no precedent in the country and, in fact, very little precedent in the world,” Sawant said before the final vote.

“This is huge,” she said.

A ban on winter evictions is in place in Paris, France. Some cities and counties in the U.S. pause or restrict evictions if temperatures dip below a certain level or if there is precipitation, but they don’t ban evictions for a period of several months.

Proponents of the bill say it’s a necessity. They point to a 2018 study by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association that found evictions contribute to homelessness, are often over a month or two of unpaid rent, and disproportionately impact people of color.

One man said during public comment Monday, “this is an immoral thing to evict people in the coldest time of the year.” Others noted that people die on the streets in Seattle every year.

Still, the legislation has received pushback from landlords who worry it will hurt them economically.

Speaking during public comment before the bill was amended and passed, Jessica Froehlich said she and her husband own six rental units and have a mortgage to pay on that building.

"We are not a faceless corporation. We are a husband and wife trying to make ends meet and we cannot afford to cover people's rent for five, six months,” she said.

Even after the scope of the bill was narrowed, the Rental Housing Association of Washington expressed disappointment.

“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,” Kyle Woodring said in a statement. Woodring is the director of government affairs at the association.

“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,” he said.

Under the legislation, landlords could still file for eviction. If a tenant uses the moratorium as a defense in court, they would not be able to remove them December through February, but evictions can go ahead after that period. Tenants are still responsible for rent during the moratorium period.

There are some exemptions to the ban, including if there’s criminal activity, or if the tenant’s behavior is making other tenants unsafe.

Sawant said Monday that the bill may not end evictions. But she said the delay could provide a lifeline for some tenants and prevent them from losing their housing. She said more work needs to be done, including passing rent control and increasing the amount of social housing.

The legislation now goes to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan to sign.

Durkan has not been a supporter of the legislation, however. A statement from a spokesperson in her office said the mayor will be evaluating the amended ordinance. It also said she’s been advised a legal fight is almost certain.

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