Mayor Bruce Harrell said Wednesday that he will issue an executive order extending Seattle’s eviction moratoriums for residents, small businesses and nonprofits for an additional 30 days, until Feb. 14.
Former Mayor Jenny Durkan most recently extended the moratoriums in September, setting them to last through Jan. 15.
The moratoriums on most residential evictions and some commercial evictions were extended six times by Durkan after they were established in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Harrell’s extension also directs Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities to continue to make available flexible payment plans and halt utility shut-offs for 90 days, until April 15.
Harrell said that the spike of COVID-19 cases, resulting in more than 15,000 new cases per day in Washington, shows the necessity of the extension.
“This is certainly not over,” Harrell said at news conference.
The mayor, who took office last week, said that he would create a group of small landlords and tenant advocates to discuss the efficacy of the moratorium, in an effort to protect both groups.
“At the end of the day, here’s our value: We can’t have anyone suffer homelessness because of financial challenges,” Harrell said.
The mayor also plans to create an online portal for landlords and tenants where they can find resources from the city. Harrell’s order will not prohibit landlords from increasing rents.
Tenants celebrated the extension on Wednesday.
“I’m relieved. I was starting to get stressed. I was starting to get nervous — ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’” said Juanita, a Seattle renter who for more than a year has been trying to get her Section 8 voucher reinstated after moving from another state. (She declined to give her last name because she has experienced domestic violence.)
Various nonprofits have helped with rent throughout the pandemic but she estimates she still owes about $5,000. She’s waiting to hear whether she will receive rent assistance from King County’s program, she said.
Juanita urged government agencies to distribute rental assistance “as quick as possible.”
“The month is going to go fast, but I’m grateful for it,” she said.
A group of housing advocates, unions and others wrote to Harrell last week, urging him to extend the moratorium “through the end of the public health emergency” and to boost funding for rent assistance.
Across the Seattle metro area, which includes Tacoma and Bellevue, an estimated 98,800 people — or 10% of renters — are behind on rent, according to a December U.S. Census survey.
Landlords have argued for months that the city’s moratorium should end.
“It’s a real financial burden. We need to remind people that it’s time to start paying rent again,” said Ben Maritz, a Seattle developer, landlord and member of Harrell’s transition team. Of 304 rental units, Maritz said about 80 of his company’s tenants are behind on rent by a total of about $250,000.
Maritz said the moratorium means his company is unable to issue comply-or-vacate notices to tenants who are disturbing their fellow tenants with noise, smoking or other nuisance behavior. Under the moratorium, evictions are allowed only for health and safety threats.
“Even though it’s meant to defend people from financial hardship … it’s causing a lot of other issues,” Maritz said.
When the moratorium ends, other Seattle laws will continue to limit some evictions, but the success of those laws could depend on tenants’ access to legal help.
Last year, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a bill to give tenants a defense against rent-related evictions for six months after the moratorium ends.
“And so in essence, we still have many months, going into August, to sort of figure this out,” Harrell said Wednesday.
To use the defense, renters must submit a “declaration or self-certification” that they “suffered a financial hardship” and are unable to pay rent, according to the law. Notices to pay or vacate must include language notifying tenants that inability to pay “is a defense to eviction that you may raise in court.”
Similar bills have established defenses against eviction during the winter, based on rental debt accrued during the city’s pandemic emergency, and during the school year for students and their guardians and for educators.
With those defenses in place, landlords can still file evictions, then tenants can respond in court by citing the laws. But between 30% and 50% of tenants who face eviction do not show up in court. And although state law requires a court order for eviction, tenants can still face more informal pressure to leave their housing.