Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced legislation Monday that would ban residential evictions during the colder months of the year.
Sawant hopes the council will take action later this month or next month, she said.
Her legislation would add to the city’s just-cause eviction law, which dictates the circumstances under which landlords can evict tenants.
Under her proposal, “regardless of whether just cause for eviction may exist,” evictions would be prohibited “from November 1 through March 31.”
Sawant said Seattle would be the first city in the U.S. to adopt such a law, though a San Francisco law protects school employees and families with children from school-year evictions when landlords want to occupy, remodel or demolish units.
As currently written, her proposal would apparently cover all evictions, including those for nonpayment of rent. Sawant indicated she may be open to refinements.
The District 3 council member, who won reelection last month, drew up the legislation in response to a recent letter from the Seattle Renters’ Commission urging the council to pause evictions. The appointed advisory commission said a wintertime moratorium would “keep neighbors from being displaced to the streets during the months with the harshest weather and poorest living conditions.”
“Tonight, in this extraordinarily wealthy city of ours, thousands of people will shiver in the cold, be forced to sleep in cars, ride public transit or gather in overcrowded shelters,” Sawant said in a statement announcing her plan, describing the proposal as a step toward “the humane approach to the homelessness crisis that voters have called for.”
Evictions disproportionately affect women and people of color, and people can die while living on the streets, she said.
“It’s just heartless to evict people onto the streets,” District 3 constituent Greg Colucci said during a public comment period at the council’s Monday meeting. “This does include families, as well.”
“I’m pleading with you to pass this legislation,” added Violet Lavatai, with the Tenants Union of Washington State. “The winter is cold … just imagine the people on the streets.”
Xochitl Maykovich with Washington Community Action Network urged the council to consider Sawant’s proposal. Though some tenants would have their evictions temporarily blocked, any debts could remain on the books, she said.
Sawant has consulted with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes’ office on legal questions related to her proposal, she said. Holmes spokesman Dan Nolte declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
“They’re giving us a well-rounded description of what we’re up against,” Sawant said Monday. “I don’t believe this is something that we cannot do.”
Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, said Friday that Durkan believes Seattle “must continue to work to protect tenants and build more affordable housing.”
“We will wait to see Councilmember Sawant’s proposal as well as legal analysis by the City Attorney’s Office,” Prentice said in a statement.
In response to a request for comment, the Rental Housing Association of Washington provided a statement from Delaney Wysingle, a Seattle landlord.
“Nobody should be without a safe place to stay during the winter — or any time of year,” Wysingle said.
But the city and the Seattle Housing Authority already have allocated money for rental-assistance programs that can prevent evictions and that don’t “put my affordable rental home at risk by asking me to cover my tenant’s housing costs,” he said.
Were Seattle to adopt Sawant’s legislation, the city would likely be sued, Council President Bruce Harrell said Monday, suggesting the proposal could prove “somewhat problematic” on legal grounds.
Harrell described the proposal as “a great policy,” saying, “We don’t want people evicted during the cold months.” But he said the council may want to investigate what money the city has allocated to help tenants avoid wintertime evictions.
There were about 3,200 evictions ordered across King County in 2017. More than 85% of Seattle eviction filings were for nonpayment of rent and in more than 50% of those filings the amount of money owed was one month’s rent or less, according to a study by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project that analyzed 1,218 cases.
The mayor and council in September passed new laws requiring landlords to allow rent payments to be made by cash or check and to register with a city inspection program before issuing eviction notices to tenants.