On Monday, housing attorney Edmund Witter held up a piece of paper before the Seattle City Council. It was a $3,833 bill from a landlord to a victim of domestic violence that included rent after she fled her abuser, he said, as well as a “bodily fluid cleanup” charge after her abuser gave her mother a skull fracture.
The Seattle City Council then voted to pass a bill to protect survivors of domestic violence from similar landlord charges. During the same session, the council also voted to pass four more tenant protection bills, including a bill that allows renters to live with family members and roommates, if under the occupancy limit.
“Three years ago, when we first started on tenant protections, I don’t think I would have envisioned the Seattle City Council passing like five ordinances to protect tenants in one meeting,” said Xochitl Maykovich, political director with the Washington Community Action Network.
The wave of legislation followed a report both Witter and Maykovich helped publish in 2018 that examined evictions in Seattle and how they contributed to the homelessness crisis.
The report, which analyzed 1,218 evictions filed in King County Superior Court in 2017, found that nearly 90% of people who were evicted ended up living in a homeless shelter, transitional housing, with family or friends, or without shelter at all.
The domestic violence bill council passed Monday underwent significant changes since Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold first introduced the measure over the summer. The original bill didn’t specify a way for landlords to recoup costs related to property damage caused by domestic abusers whose identities were kept confidential.
The final version of the bill included a provision for a mitigation program so landlords can be reimbursed for damages caused by abusers that aren’t covered by insurance.
Herbold, who initially opposed the idea, said not releasing the names of the perpetrators created a “practical challenge” for the legislation. She added that she’d be working to make sure the state’s newly created landlord mitigation fund, related to its eviction reform legislation passed earlier this year, would be available for this purpose – though she’d be seeking some “bridge funding” in the upcoming city budgeting process.
The mitigation program would only allow landlords paying more than $500 in property damage costs to apply and would cap reimbursement at $1,000.
In addition to domestic violence survivors, the bill also defined victims of sexual assault, stalking and unlawful harassment as protected tenants.
Council on Monday also passed a measure authorizing a tenant’s right to live with a roommate, family members or family members of a roommate, if consistent with the unit’s occupancy limits. The bill again cited the 2018 eviction report, which found that lease agreements that rejected roommates resulted in people not being able to afford Seattle housing.
The three other rental protections council passed, which Mayor Jenny Durkan had pushed and supported, will require landlords to: include tenant resources on notices; allow rent to be paid in cash or check; and register with the city’s rental registration and inspection ordinance before issuing eviction notices to tenants.