Seattle renters will be entitled to “reasonable” repayment plans for unpaid rent built up during the pandemic for six months after the city’s civil emergency order expires.

The Seattle City Council voted 7-1 on Tuesday to extend protections for tenants who owe unpaid rent, amending previous protections to require that landlords offer tenants a “reasonable” amount of time to repay past-due rent.  

In May 2020 the council approved an ordinance that required landlords to offer three- to six-month repayment plans to tenants who accumulate unpaid rent during the pandemic. The new action requires landlords to offer “reasonable” repayment plans, with monthly installments that do not exceed one-third of a tenant’s monthly rent, for rental debts incurred during or up to six months after the end of the city’s civil emergency order. 

Councilmember Dan Strauss, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday the change is necessary due to the unexpected length of the pandemic. 

“At that time we believed that the pandemic would first only last two weeks, and then two months, and we definitely did not foresee it lasting two years or more,” Strauss said. “We did know then, when everything was shut and many people’s line of work froze, that people needed time to address the debt incurred during that close-down.”

Strauss described the bill as a “technical correction” that would bring the city’s rule closer to the state Legislature’s 2021 payment plan requirement.

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Multiple property owners and advocates called the council to object to the amendment, claiming the change would confuse and financially burden local landlords. 

“This is unnecessary, confusing and will leave Seattle housing providers guessing which state or city laws apply to them, making it more difficult to ensure they are fully in compliance with city and state law,” Daniel Bannon, a representative of the Rental Housing Association of Washington said, asking the council to amend the ordinance to end at the same time as the state’s civil emergency order. 

“We must prevent further isolation of Seattle’s rental housing policy that is forcing small housing providers out of the city at unprecedented rates,” he added.

Strauss said the new policy was the best option for both property owners and tenants behind on rent. 

“The bill before us today helps us ensure that landlords are made whole and tenants have a reasonable time to repay their debt,” Strauss said. “The tenant does remain responsible for repaying any and all debt they’ve incurred.”

Councilmember Sara Nelson, the sole vote against the bill, said she fears that allowing renters more time to pay back debts could harm small and independent landlords.

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“The bottom line is that I am concerned about losing rental housing stock, particularly that of small landlords who had less resources to weather the eviction moratorium, and unpaid rent that is ongoing,” Nelson said.

Nelson noted that the council bill is tied to the city’s March 2020 civil emergency, which is still in place, rather than the state’s legislation and which, unlike the state protection, also extends to debts incurred up to six months after the end of the state of emergency. 

The amendment passed 7-1 with Nelson opposing; Councilmember Kshama Sawant absent; and Councilmembers Strauss, Lisa Herbold, Andrew Lewis, Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda and Alex Pedersen and Council President Debora Juarez voting in favor.