Five Key Points About Seattle’s New Winter Eviction Ban
On February 10, the Seattle City Council took the unprecedented step of banning eviction for “Winter Months”. While there were many arguments made in a hectic council meeting, here are a few things to remember:
- Eviction from a residence is very rare. The Losing Home Report states that 558 people were removed from their homes in 2017. In a city with over 165,000 rental units, that is a rate of less than .003%. Why would the city create such a broad punitive policy, instead of targeting available assistance to the small but vulnerable population being priced out of Seattle because of its 20th century housing policies?
- Proponents of the ban often quote a statistic from the Losing Home Report, that over 87% of evicted tenants became homeless. It is important to note on page 19 of the report the research was conducted by an anonymous written survey of 72 of residents and only 6 and in person interviews with individuals who, “ had experienced eviction in the past…”. When it came to understand what happens to the 558 people who lost their home in 2017 due to eviction, the proponents of eviction reform stopped their research after less than 100 survey respondents and less than 10 interviews.
- Another key detail is that the legislation creates an affirmative defense to eviction. While proponents have stated that a housing provider can still pursue an eviction, this is practically untrue. The law will make it so any eviction case brought during the ban period is immediately thrown out of court. This is not simply holding up writs of restitution, it is an outright stoppage of an eviction proceeding during the period. The mitigation fund amended into the bill would only pay housing providers after they have a writ of restitution, so this means that practically, no housing provider would ever be paid during the ban period, but would have to wait until the ban is over in order to pursue subsidy relief from the city.
- State law already addressed cruel evictions. Last year RHAWA negotiated a bill to address evictions for vulnerable populations. RHAWA advocated for funding upfront rental assistance that could be used before evictions proceed, but tenant advocates pushed for broad and complex reform to the eviction process that would require housing providers to support their tenants through mandatory payment plans. Along with increasing the pay or vacate notice period from 3 to 14 days, the process of eviction for nonpayment of rent could be extended another 100 days under SSB 5600. One of the key provisions in the law allows a judge to reinstate the tenancy due to unfair burdens on a tenant who has failed to pay rent. Cold weather was a common anecdote brought up by tenant advocates for the reason to allow for judicial discretion.
Now the prime sponsor of SSB 5600 is pursuing new legislation to reverse the agreed upon protections for small housing providers, because of accusations of “shameful” and “bad faith negotiation tactics” by rental housing advocates like RHAWA’s government affairs team. These punitive policy goals are even more difficult to tolerate in the face of tenant advocates pushing to ban evictions for half the year in Seattle. At no point was there ever any conversation about a potential eviction ban in the city during discussions on eviction reform at the state level. It is also important to note, that tenant advocates and most Seattle lawmakers will not discuss preemption policies that would allow for negotiations on statewide solutions for rental housing.
- Finally, while the debate about constitutional private property rights in Washington continues to rage on, a world-class city like Seattle banning the ability for a critical industry to recover the costs it needs to provide housing to residents is the most aggressive attempt to take private property for public purpose yet.