A judge on Wednesday rejected a landlord group’s challenge to three Seattle laws meant to protect renters from eviction once the pandemic moratorium expires.
King County Superior Court Judge Johanna Bender found the laws, including Seattle’s ban on winter evictions, largely constitutional.
The Rental Housing Association of Washington sued to try to block the laws, arguing the regulations would gut their rights under state law.
Bender’s ruling included one small exception: She struck down one portion of a law requiring landlords to allow payment plans for rent accrued during the pandemic.
The city barred late fees, interest and other charges because of late payment during the pandemic. Bender struck down the reference to interest payments, citing a state law allowing landlords to collect interest on unpaid rent. However, the rest of the ordinance, including the prohibition on charging late fees, can remain in place, she ruled.
The Rental Housing Association’s lawsuit did not challenge Seattle’s ongoing moratorium on evictions during the pandemic but instead sought to strike down three laws that would affect eviction proceedings after the moratorium ends.
One rule requires landlords to offer payment plans to tenants who fall behind on rent during the pandemic and its aftermath. Another gives tenants a legal defense against eviction for six months after the moratorium ends if they declare they “suffered a financial hardship.” (The law does not define financial hardship.)
The third, passed before the pandemic, bans evictions during the winter months.
Landlords named as plaintiffs in the case said they each had a tenant owing rent at the time the suit was filed, some behind by as much as $7,000. That made it hard for property owners to cover their expenses as the pandemic drags on, they argued.
Attorneys representing the city of Seattle defended the laws and argued evictions will lead to a spike in homelessness.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes praised the ruling in a statement Wednesday.
“In a more perfect world we would have ample federally funded rental voucher assistance to help both tenants and landlords, but in absence of that, the city stepped up to curb evictions during the most dangerous months of the year and to help prevent a tidal wave of homelessness as we recover from this pandemic,” Holmes said.
The Rental Housing Association has not yet said whether it plans to appeal the decision. Executive Director Sean Martin called the regulations “counterproductive,” arguing they could push small landlords out of the city.
“There would be far fewer affordable homes without small housing providers who, together, provide thousands of affordable units to people who want to live and work in Seattle,” Martin said in a statement.
In response to arguments that the regulations deprive landlords of their property rights, Bender wrote that the rules “merely temporarily delay landlords’ ability to evict tenants and collect rent. The tenants, however, remain liable for all rent they owe.”
She came to a similar conclusion regarding the winter eviction ban. A landlord could still secure an order allowing an eviction, though it may be delayed from March until May, Bender wrote.