Seattle Policy Changes Impacting Residential Tenants and Housing Providers (Landlords): 2020, 2021, 2022




Introduction: During the past two years or so, the Seattle City Council has adopted several new policies and provided substantial funding to benefit many residential tenants. This has been in addition to the federal stimulus checks, temporary boosts to unemployment insurance, and ongoing rental assistance in various forms.

Some of the policy changes I supported and some I did not, depending on the specifics of each proposal. In general, if the proposal was targeted to serve those in financial need during the height of the COVID pandemic emergency and related economic recession, I supported it. If the bill was not vital during the pandemic, not targeted to those in need, not shown to be effective in other jurisdictions, and/or posed a significant legal risk to the City, I generally did NOT support it. For historical context, it’s important to note that previous City Councils prior to 2020 put in place many other protections for residential tenants and the State government has recently adopted new protections (and funding) for tenants.

This blog post provides details of the landlord-tenant policies and funding for Seattle during 2020, 2021, and 2022 (with the most recent events listed first). Note: The COVID-related eviction moratorium instituted in March 2020 ended February 28, 2022.

I agree that many tenants are still vulnerable to sharp rent increases from their landlords due to the State Law prohibiting rent control, but those negative impacts have been largely mitigated by many of the other protections put in place. In addition, I believe policymakers should continue to subsidize low-income housing for those in need (under 60% of area median income) and should support effective and sustainable solutions that prevent homelessness. For some additional details on affordable housing and homelessness, CLICK HERE. Thank you.



June 10, 2022: Mayor Harrell vetoes bill that would have collected data to help preserve and expand affordable housing; Councilmembers Pedersen and Morales express disappointment

Response from the bill’s sponsors: SEATTLE – Councilmembers Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle) and Tammy Morales (District 2, South Seattle and the Chinatown / International District) reacted to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s veto today of their legislation to collect data about rental rates in the City of Seattle.

“I am deeply disappointed our solution to collect housing data helpful for preventing displacement of economically vulnerable people was not signed into law. Similar laws to collect rental housing data are already in place throughout the nation, so the veto means Seattle is still behind the times,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen. “The amendments made to our legislation already addressed concerns about timing, budget, and implementation. Rejecting this law seems to be a victory for landlords unwilling to share data and a loss for those seeking data to make informed decisions on preserving and expanding affordable housing in our city.”  

“Councilmember Pedersen and I worked together on this bill because we understand that the City needs solid data to help us make smart policy decisions. The fact of the matter is that we have no reliable source of data on average rents, rent increases, vacancy rates, or year-over-year trends in these areas,” said Councilmember Tammy J. Morales. “Vetoing this bill means relying on a private for-profit firm like the now-shuttered Dupre + Scott. That option, which currently doesn’t even exist, would provide us with incomplete, voluntary data that would cost money every time we seek it. This veto sends the message that we should make decisions in a vacuum, rather than make data-driven decisions and frankly I find that troubling.”  

Mayor Harrell vetoed Council Bill 120325 adopted by the City Council on May 31, 2022. The legislation adds reporting requirements related to rent and rental housing information, like prices and square footage, to the existing Rental Registration Inspection Ordinance. The information would be submitted to a research university for analysis.  

If the Mayor had allowed the bill to become law, Seattle would have efficiently filled the longstanding gap in rental housing data needed for better-informed policymaking about affordable housing. Seattle’s Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) adopted several years ago already requires landlords to submit a list of their rental units and this bill would simply have property owners include that list along with rental rates and square footage of each unit to a research university to compile and analyze this important data. No personal information would be provided, the executive departments would determine when to start the process, and the requirement would have sunset in December 2025.  

For the past four years our city government has lacked the level of detail needed to understand many details about Seattle’s housing inventory, including the extent of affordable housing that is not subsidized, but still has below market rents usually because that housing stock is older, what some refer to as “naturally occurring affordable housing.” This legislation follows through with Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent (OPCD-004-A-001) Council adopted in November 2020 and the intent to mitigate for displacement impacts expressed in Resolution 31870

The July 2019 report prepared for the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development by the Urban Displacement Project, University of California, titled “Heightened Displacement Risk Indicators for the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Monitoring Program,” states that “a more granular and localized” data set is needed to “best meet the City’s racial equity goals. The Seattle Market Rate Housing Needs And Supply Analysis prepared for the City in 2021 states, “Displacement can result from economic pressures (such as rising rents or loss of income), demolition of rental housing for redevelopment, eviction, foreclosure, or loss of community anchors that tie residents to a place.” 

Timely rental rate and location data for Seattle’s existing supply of rental housing will be vital when updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan and making significant land use policy and zoning changes in the future. Without this legislation, it is unclear how the executive departments will obtain the detailed data needed for policymakers.

According to Article IV, Section 12 of the Seattle City Charter, the City Council is required to vote on whether to override or sustain the Mayor’s veto within 30 days. An override requires six votes. 

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May 31, 2022: Council passes Pedersen’s bill (CB 120325) to require landlords to provide rental data to research university from October 2022 through December 2025 in hopes of preventing displacement

A majority of the full City Council adopted my legislation (Council Bill 120325) to require landlords to provide rental data to a research university from October 2022 through December 2025 in hopes of implementing policies to prevent additional displacement of existing residents as part of the City Council’s adoption of an updated Comprehensive Plan. While I did not support her amendments on May 31, I sincerely appreciate Councilmember Morales joining this legislation as a co-sponsor. I also appreciate the work on this legislation by Legislative Aide Toby Thaler.

It’s important to note that achieving the October 2022 start date will require the Harrell Administration to take action now to conduct a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) (which will lower costs) and sign a contract with the winning research university. Unfortunately, the City departments that oversee private sector real estate matters (such as planning, zoning, and building code compliance) have thus far seemed resistant to efforts needed to obtain this detailed data on rental housing. It’s important to note, however, that the City has longstanding policies to prevent displacement (see the “Whereas” recitals of the adopted legislation), the budgets have grown for the City departments of OPCD and SDCI, and the payroll tax revenues are higher than expected for a “JumpStart” spending plan that would include programs designed to…”preserve naturally occurring, quality, affordable housing, and examine the role that smaller landlords may play in providing safe, affordable housing” (See Section 1(B)(2)(a) of Resolution 31957 which we adopted in 2020.)

The victory for this legislation reveals what could be considered a new displacement prevention majority on the Seattle City Council: Herbold, Lewis, Morales, Pedersen, Sawant (and hopefully additional Councilmembers). It’s a policy affinity that already existed, but has been overshadowed for two years by important debates on policing as well as on homelessness encampments.

Unfortunately, the past practice at City Hall seems to have favored granting to real estate developers blanket land use “upzones” wherever possible without maximizing rapid provision of low-income housing and with no meaningful measures in place to prevent the demolition of naturally occurring affordable housing. Instead, City Hall has used tax dollars to fund grant programs to select community groups for scatter-shot “post-mitigation” after the harm (displacement and demolition) has occurred from the land use policies. When data is needed to better understand the extent of housing demolitions, the details are not readily available. I believe it would be better to put in place the displacement prevention measures beforehand so that future upzones can provide optimal public benefits (e.g. low-income housing in all neighborhoods) without demolishing things we want to keep (such as affordable housing and affordable storefronts to support walkable neighborhoods).

I understand that rental housing providers are frustrated with having to absorb so many changes and requirements over the past few years — I have voted against some of those requirements and/or worked to exempt smaller landlords. Yet, to prevent future displacement of Seattle residents, time is running out to get this simple, yet vital rental housing data to a research university before City Hall updates the required Comprehensive Plan that will serve as the foundation for future housing and land use policies. While the analysis of the new rental data might not be available for the Harrell Administration to incorporate in their initial drafts of Comp Plan changes, the analysis of the data should be available before City Council makes any final decisions on the Comp Plan. (Please see below for the post from March 15 and 18, 2022 for more information.)

For a Seattle Times article on this topic, CLICK HERE.


May 24, 2022: Council strengthens two ordinances after judge’s ruling (CB 120330 provides landlords ability to verify tenant assertions of financial hardship from CB 119784 and CB 120077).

A judge ruled that Council Bill 119784 (Ordinance 126075 / SMC 22.205.090) adopted in May 2020 was faulty because it allowed tenants to certify on their own that they are suffering from financial hardship, but did not provide the landlord “due process” to rebut such certification. There was a similar self-attestation allowed for tenants in Council Bill 120077 (Ordinance 126368 / SMC22.205.100). In an attempt to cure this, Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposed Council Bill 120330 to remove the self-attestation altogether from both ordinances. But removing it altogether could have created other legal risks. To address this, Councilmember Sara Nelson amended the new bill so that it would give landlords the ability to rebut the tenant’s assertion of financial hardship. That amended bill passed today (9 to 0).


March 15 and 18, 2022: Proposal to Provide Rental Data via Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance (CB 120284 which became CB 120325):

On March 15, 2022, I introduced Council Bill 120284 (which became CB 120325). If adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, this legislation would require landlords to provide to a research university their existing rental rates, unit sizes, and occupancy status for their units twice a year, as part of the requirements under Seattle’s Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO). The bill had its first hearing at the City Council’s Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee meeting on Friday, March 18, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. [NOTE: We are adding more time to the legislative process for this bill so that we hear amendments at the Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee on Friday, May 6, rather than on April 1.]

The City needs — but does not have — complete and granular data for Seattle’s rental housing inventory to make important public policy decisions.

The Rental Housing Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO), codified in our Seattle Municipal Code, already requires a list of units. Moreover, landlords already produce for their own bookkeeping a “rent roll” (typically monthly) with their list of units, rents, occupancy status, bedroom type etc. This proposal would simply have them send that list (minus the tenant names) to the research university designated by the City.

That said, I have heard many concerns about Council Bill 120284 this past week. Please rest assured that we are not voting on the bill this week.  We wanted to put the bill into the public realm to get robust input and we’re getting it!

Here are just a few of the reasons for why I believe the City of Seattle needs this detailed data: 

_ NEED DATA TO PREVENT DISPLACEMENT: The City’s official policy is to prevent displacement of existing residents, yet we’ve been seeing anecdotally a large and disappointing loss of older affordable housing throughout Seattle, including in up-zoned areas such as the University District. We need better data to confirm and prevent displacement.

_ VITAL DATA FOR COMP PLAN CHANGES: The City is gearing up for our required Comprehensive Planning process that requires detailed housing and displacement data. For example, it appears that the last detailed report on Seattle’s inventory of un-subsidized, below-market rental housing (also known as naturally occurring affordable housing) was published in 2016.

_ CENSUS TRACT DATA LACKS VITAL DETAILS: The self-selecting, incomplete nature of voluntary participation is not likely to provide the comprehensive coverage as well as the granular detail needed — unless the research university followed up aggressively with landlords who have no incentive to provide the detail. (There are currently 30,000 properties registered with RRIO; those properties contain about 150,000 units, according to OPCD as of September 2021.) Census tract information currently used by city government to gauge displacement risk is too high level; the City needs the data at least block by block.

_ WE HAVE ALREADY CONSIDERED ALTERNATIVES: We have been unsuccessful in having the city government departments get/provide this detailed information. The Council asked executive departments to explore this back in November 2020 via a “Statement of Legislative Intent” (OPCD-004-A-001) and received a response in September 2021 that stated there is not a handy, ideal solution to the data gap and that, to use RRIO to collect this data, RRIO would need to be amended. Hence this new proposal of Council Bill 120284. It’s unfortunate the rental survey firm Dupre & Scott closed in December 2017, but even that firm seemed to have gaps in information, especially for smaller buildings. I believe the closure of that firm and the ongoing gaps in data are some reasons why a growing city like ours cannot rely on a private survey firm for rental housing data. Moreover, the often used survey firm Co-Star does not include buildings with 1 to 4 rental units.

_ DATA CAN VALIDATE AFFORDABLE BENEFITS OF SMALLER “MOM & POP” LANDLORDS: We would need more than anecdotal information to demonstrate that small landlords provide naturally occurring affordable housing that is an important asset to our city’s residents – confirming this hypothesis about mom & pop landlords can be a positive for small landlords.

NEXT STEPS: AMENDMENTS. Prior to introducing the bill, I informally consulted with leaders of small landlords and incorporated initial input from them: to have a research university be the entity to receive the rental rate information rather than the city government. Since then I have received a lot more input and concerns from landlords and I understand they’ll continue to gather and communicate concerns and advocate for potential amendments.  

I’m very open to reasonable amendments and need to go through the process this week of hearing it for the first time at the Council Committee. For example, I’d like to explore how to adjust the accountability for this new requirement of submitting the additional info – this could include requiring the City to issue a notice or notice(s) before any penalties and allowing landlords to continue to enforce their leases during that process of trying to get the rental data.  I realize this does not address all of the concerns by housing providers thus far, yet I wanted to cite an initial example.

I understand this proposal is coming on the heels of many other new landlord-tenant policies and that it has been relatively challenging for housing providers in Seattle. As you may know, I have worked to try to exempt small landlords from several of those changes (sometime successful, many times not). At the same time, the City has an urgent public policy need to fill this disappointing gap in rental housing data.

  • For the initial City Council Staff memo, CLICK HERE.
  • For a news article by MyNorthwest about the March 18, 2022 Committee meeting, CLICK HERE.
  • For local housing statistics, CLICK HERE. Also, please consider the hyperlinks embedded throughout this blog post.

February 18-22, 2022: Councilmember Kshama Sawant introduced Resolution 32044 in an attempt to overturn Mayor Harrell’s decision to end the 2-year eviction moratorium on February 28, 2022. Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution would have instead continued the eviction moratorium until the “civil emergency” of the COVID pandemic officially ends, even though that date is unknown and we have put in place several other tenant protections (including the winter ban on evictions). I supported Mayor Harrell’s decision to end this particular moratorium after nearly 2 years based, in larger part on the rationale he already articulated (CLICK HERE), including the multiple supports and protections already in place. The Council kept in place Mayor Harrell’s policy by voting against Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution 5 to 3. Council President Debora Juarez also voted against the Resolution and delivered comprehensive remarks with which I concurred. For the benefit of my constituents, however, here are the remarks I crafted to explain my vote, even though I did not deliver them at the February 22, 2022 Council meeting:

Seattle’s City Hall has been incredibly proactive and compassionate with its recent policies and financial assistance to those struggling during the COVID pandemic.  I believe that the rise of a global pandemic (before we achieved high vaccination rates here in Seattle) constituted a sufficient emergency for the Chief Executives of all levels of government to impose temporary moratoria on evictions, as well as temporary bans of foreclosures on mortgages.  Yet deciding to continue our city government’s interference with the fully executed contracts already agreed to by housing providers and their tenants could, I believe, increasingly subject our city to substantial legal risk and potentially undermine additional tenant protections already in place.

For the past two years, I have supported the Executive’s decision to use their emergency powers to impose and continually extend this moratorium on rental evictions. It’s important to note that the ban on bank foreclosures on certain mortgages, however, ended back in July of 2021.  In addition, Governors and Mayors across the nation have already ended their moratoria on rental evictions.  Our own Governor ended his statewide moratorium nearly 4 months ago. I agreed with our Governor when he said back in October of 2021, “We have to have some end to the moratorium. You can’t have an economy ultimately where just nobody pays rent.” 

I have confidence in our new Mayor Bruce Harrell — recently chosen by Seattle voters with a large winning margin — and I have confidence in his team of seasoned and thoughtful strategic advisors. After their own extensions of this same moratorium, they decided this moratorium would end February 28. Their rationale basis for ending the moratorium after nearly two years is sound and includes several reasons, such as the fact that we are emerging from the pandemic with some of the highest vaccination rates in the nation and we have already put in place multiple new tenant protections: a 6-month legal defense, free attorneys, rental assistance programs, repayment plans, a ban on evictions during the winter months, and several other older protections, such as Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction ordinance. (Moreover, when other jurisdictions have lifted their moratoria, they have not experienced an unusual percentage of evictions.) Even some nonprofit housing providers are eager to see this Executive Order on evictions expire.

The Executive Order originates with the executive and we, as the Council, already exercised our right to modify it nearly two years ago. To modify it again today would be to directly overturn the Executive’s decision.  We all know it’s the personal choice of each Councilmember to vote against our new Mayor and FOR Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution.  For me, it boils down to this:  I have confidence in Mayor Harrell and his team and so I will be voting today to support Mayor Harrell and his team and their decision to end the two-year eviction ban, instead of this Resolution from Councilmember Sawant. I will be voting No on Councilmember Sawant’s Resolution. Thank you.


February 11, 2022 UPDATE: Mayor Harrell announced he is ending Seattle’s eviction moratorium February 28, 2022.

After several extensions and following the Governor Inslee’s end to the statewide eviction moratorium in October 2021, Mayor Harrell announced he will end Seattle’s eviction moratorium February 28, 2022. For Mayor Harrell’s announcement, CLICK HERE.

The City Council adopted several protections for residential tenants over the past two years. In addition, Mayor Harrell set up an Eviction Assistance web page as part of the City’s broader Renting in Seattle online resource.  The Eviction Assistance page offers renters and landlords key information they should know about the end of the moratorium on February 28, 2022 and post-moratorium tenant protections.  It also provides links to resources and more detailed information.  We will be adding translated information as it becomes available.  The Assistance website is www.seattle.gov/EvictionAssistance and it lists resources available to tenants once the moratorium ends, including:

*free legal assistance from the Housing Justice Project

*assistance for rent and utility payments due to COVID hardships

*rules limiting eviction of tenants with delinquent rent accrued between March 3, 2020 and up to 6 months after the end of the moratorium

*rules limiting eviction from September to June based on Seattle Public Schools calendar for households with students (childcare—under 18), educators and employees of schools.


October 31, 2021: Governor Inslee ends State-level moratorium on rental evictions.

Governor Inslee acknowledged on October 29, 2021, “We have to have some end to the moratorium. You can’t have an economy ultimately where just nobody pays rent.” For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE.


September 21 and 27, 2021 UPDATE: (CM Sawant advances two more bills for tenants; Mayor extends eviction moratorium to January 15, 2022 via Executive Order 2021-07).

Councilmember Sawant passed two of her bills out of her Renters Rights Committee on September 21, 2021: Council Bill 119985 extends the notification for ANY rent increase from 60 days to 180 days and Council Bill 120173 requires landlords to pay substantially higher relocation amounts for tenants who decide to move out after receiving a rent increase of 10% or more. The payments from the landlord to assist tenants with relocation (if there is a rent increase of 10% or more AND the tenant decides to move) is separate from the existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO).

I proposed an amendment to improve (in my opinion) each bill.

For the additional notification bill, I proposed to exempt small “mom & pop” landlords that own fewer than 5 units in Seattle (so they would be required to provide the existing 60 days of notice instead of the newly proposed 180 days). My proposed amendment was consistent with my attempts on previous pieces of legislation to exempt smaller landlords because there is a growing concern that Seattle’s flood of cumulative regulatory changes are encouraging small landlords to remove their housing from the rental market by selling their properties. Unfortunately, my amendment to exempt small landlords from the longer notification period failed 3 to 2. With my amendment failing, I abstained at the committee vote to provide myself with more time to think about it. By the time the full Council meeting arrived on September 27, 2021, nothing substantive had changed and I heard concerns from additional small (“mom & pop”) housing providers. So, while I support corporate landlords providing additional notice of rent increases, I believe it’s important to exempt small landlords, so I voted No. The bill passed anyway, 7 to 1.

For the additional relocation program, I proposed to tailor it for tenants in need, specifically defined as “low income.” The low-income definition (per our State government) is 80% of the area median income (AMI), which is adjusted based on the number of people in the household. (Examples: $92,000 per year for a family of four or $65,000 for a single person household). As proposed, the tenant would already need to submit information to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), so they would simply add a self-certification for their annual income. [The existing Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) also has an income qualification requirement.] Fortunately, this amendment of mine passed 3 to 2 at the committee and was, therefore, incorporated into the bill advancing to the full City Council. Councilmember Sawant still tried to delete my amendment at the full Council meeting on September 27, but my amendment stayed in place with a vote of 5 to 3. If my amendment had been deleted, I would have voted against the final bill. But my amendment remained, so I voted in favor of the final bill. Small landlords are not likely to try to raise rents above 10% in any given year, so this bill should not adversely impact small landlords. This new law is likely to be viewed as a major milestone for renter rights in Seattle.

Separately today, Mayor Durkan extended the eviction moratorium to January 15, 2022 via Executive Order 2021.07. This is the 6th extension since the COVID-19 civil emergency. This extension will also include prohibiting utility shutoffs. I’m concerned about the sluggish pace at which our local governments are getting federal rental assistance dollars to tenants and landlords. With faster distribution of rental relief dollars, another extension might not be needed, especially considering all the new protections put in place by the Seattle City Council. I would have preferred re-examining the need for the new extensions of the moratorium each month, rather than dictating an arbitrary 4-month extension. For the Mayor’s press release, CLICK HERE.


July 31, 2021 UPDATE: Federal foreclosure moratorium ends

On July 31, 2021, the federal government ended its COVID-era moratorium that had prevented bank foreclosures on certain mortgages. For a Washington Post article, CLICK HERE and for an C-NBC article, CLICK HERE. This is important because landlords often owe money to banks for the mortgages that funded their rental properties and the landlords rely on rent from their tenants to pay the debt service on those mortgages. Unlike other states, Washington State did not continue its own program beyond July 31, 2021, but the Washington State Attorney General published information about housing counseling services for property owners (CLICK HERE).


June 21, 2021 UPDATE:

Indicating her overall opposition to Council Bills 120046, 120077, 120090, Mayor Durkan returned them all un-signed (which is consistent with my No vote on those 3 bills). Unlike our U.S. Constitution which requires the chief executive (the President) to sign bills coming from the legislature (the Congress), our City Charter does not require the chief executive (the Mayor) to sign bills from the legislature (the City Council) for them to become law. You may have heard the term “pocket veto” whereby the President does NOT sign a law and it fails to become law. In Seattle, we have what I call “pocket passage” whereby the Mayor does NOT sign a law, but it becomes law anyway. Nevertheless, this decision requires the Mayor to explain her rationale for not signing and express her general opposition, even if she does not exercise her veto authority. For her letter explaining her opposition to CB 120046, 120077, and 120090, CLICK HERE. (Note: to overturn a mayoral veto, the Council needs only 6 votes. Therefore, if a bill received 6 votes during its initial passage, sometimes a mayor would not go through the exercise of vetoing it, because it is likely to be overridden anyway.)


June 7, 2021 UPDATE:

Today the Seattle City Council passed one Resolution and three Ordinances to favor residential tenants. Notably, all three ordinances are permanent, new laws that extend beyond the COVID pandemic.

Resolution 31998: Passed 7 to 0; I voted Yes.

In response to the economic recession caused by COVID, all levels of government have approved additional financial assistance for those struggling to pay for rent, which includes additional unemployment insurance, direct rental assistance, and other funding. We have confirmation from mainstream media reports, however, that it is taking longer than hoped to get the additional dollars for rental assistance out of the door and into the hands of struggling tenants and housing providers. While, ideally, we would not need another 6 months, this Resolution is non-binding, so I will be supporting it. I believe making housing providers whole with the money owed to them is the best path, rather than making permanent regulatory changes. Extending the eviction ban would provide more time as we emerge from the pandemic.

Council Bill 120046: Passed 6 to 1; I voted No.

My remarks: “Colleagues, I offered several amendments at the Renters Rights Committee which I believed would have made this legislation better. I saw it as my role to offer those amendments for consideration at the Committee on which I serve and rather than to retry or rehash them at full Council…

• I agree with the sponsor of the legislation that evictions present hardships for children and families, and no one wants to have this disruption that leads to learning loss and instability for children.
• I have voted in favor of numerous tenant protections during the past year, including the winter ban on evictions for low- and moderate-income residents, free legal counsel for those in need and facing eviction, and the payment plans for those impacted negatively by the COVID pandemic. Today I supported the Resolution to encourage another extension to the eviction moratorium to provide more time to have more rental assistance money flow from the federal and State governments to both housing providers and tenants. Before joining the City Council, I help to build and preserve tens of thousands of units of affordable housing and I worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development helping to allocate billions of dollars to address homelessness throughout the country.
• However, I believe the more targeted, direct, and efficient solution is to fund tenant and landlord assistance for those in need rather piling on yet another regulation that could be legally challenged because it leaves one party — the providers of the housing, bearing the brunt of the cost. Regulating rather than funding the solutions is more likely to have a substantial negative impact — not on so-called “corporate landlords” he can absorb these costs imposed by City Council, but on the smallest landlords in our city. For all of the ordinances before us today, my amendments would have exempted small landlords (owning 4 or fewer units in Seattle).
• Regarding this Council Bill 120046, the permanent bill that would single out “educators” for special rental protections,
o one of my amendments would have targeted the bill to assist teachers and substitute teachers (and curriculum specialists) rather than every single employee at the school who might not be involved in the direct education of children. Moreover, my amendment would still have kept the special new protection for the school children and their families.
o Another amendment would have made the bill more like the law from San Francisco which limits the eviction protections to when it is no fault of a tenant who is an Educator. But my amendment would have been broader than San Francisco’s banning those evictions for school children and their families.
o Another amendment would have changed this permanent alteration of landlord-tenant relations to an 18-month pilot program to determine whether it is effective. It’s important for the general public to know that this bill is different from recent COVID relief bills because it would be permanent.

[These amendments, unfortunately, did not pass.]

I believe we should focus on getting the targeted funding to those in need, rather than permanently altering the contractual relationships to put the burden entirely on the housing provider. To be consistent with my votes at Committee, I will be voting No today. Thank you.”

Council Bill 120077: Passed 5-2; I voted No.

My remarks: “For this Council Bill 120077, I offered two amendments at the Renters Rights Committee on May 26: the first amendment would have exempted small landlords; the second would have allowed this regulatory change for 18 months so that it corresponds to the potential lingering effects of the COVID recession. I think we need to be mindful of the financial challenges faced by smaller housing providers who lack the economies of scale to absorb these city-imposed costs. I also do not think it is appropriate to make such regulatory legislation permanent.

Neither of my amendments passed, so I voted NO at Committee and, since nothing material has changed since that time, I will be voting No today. While this legislation says it’s related to the COVID civil emergency, it would be a permanent law.

Rather than making wholesale and permanent regulatory changes to existing contractual relationships that put the entire burden onto the housing provider regardless of their hardship, I believe we should instead get the funding into the hands of the housing providers to make them whole for the tenants who truly need that help.”

Council Bill 120090: Passed 5 to 2; I voted No.

My remarks: “I think I would have been able to support this legislation Council Bill 120090 if a similar State law had not passed. But a similar State Law House Bill 1236 recently passed.

Council Bill 120090 is, in my opinion, pre-empted by State law which includes, but is not limited to the newly State law House Bill 1236.

As I understand it, local laws are generally pre-empted by State laws that conflict on the same subject matter, even if the State law does not expressly include a pre-emption clause.

So, it’s not clear to me why this City Council is proceeding to adopt a City law that could burden the City with substantial legal risk.

Consistent with my vote at the Committee level, I will be voting No on Council Bill 120090 because of the concerns with pre-emption by the State government.”

More Info: For a Seattle Times article on the legislation, CLICK HERE. For an SCC Insight article, CLICK HERE.


March 29, 2021 UPDATE: (excerpt from newsletter)

Mayor Durkan and Governor Inslee Extend COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums to June 30, 2021

Following last week’s announcement of $23 million of additional rental assistance and the prospect of new rental assistance available to Seattle and King County through the new American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Mayor Durkan extended COVID-19 relief measures, including the eviction moratoriums to protect residential, nonprofit, and small business tenants in the City of Seattle through June 30, 2021. Other COVID-19 relief measures include extending the Utility Discount Program’s Self Certification Pilot Program until June 30, 2021, which can lower Seattle City Light bills by 60 percent and Seattle Public Utility bills by 50 percent for people who meet the eligibility requirements.

Residential tenants who receive an eviction notice during the moratorium should contact the Renting in Seattle hotline at 206‐684‐5700 or go online to submit a complaint. On top of the current proposal for $23 million for rental assistance, the City of Seattle has committed $18 million to rental assistance  in addition to state and King County resources for landlords and tenants. If you’re a small business, see the Office of Economic Development’s COVID-19 Lease Amendment Tool Kit.

The City continues to maintain a comprehensive resource page for residents and small businesses impacted by COVID-19.


March 29, 2021 and March 4, 2021 UPDATE (excerpt from newsletter):

Councilmember Sawant’s Bill for Tenants (“Right to Counsel” Council Bill 120007): My No Vote at Committee and Yes at Full City Council

Consistent with the additional $1.9 Trillion in additional federal relief (for a total of $5 Trillion) and our Governor and Mayor extending the eviction moratorium several more months, I agree we must continually prevent evictions whenever possible. This is why I joined the rest of City Hall leaders and…

  • Increased funding for tenant supports, including funds for legal assistance to prevent evictions.
  • Supported reforms at the State legislature to provide tenants with more protections.
  • Banned evictions during the coldest winter months.
  • Prevented evictions throughout the COVID pandemic (and the eviction moratorium is being extended).
  • Adopted the Council President’s legislation to allow for installments of back rent following COVID.

However, Councilmember Sawant’s new legislation (Council Bill 120007) to have city taxpayers foot the bills for free attorneys for anyone being evicted is concerning on a number of fronts, so I voted against it at her Committee on March 4. I will continue to support effective, targeted — and funded — eviction prevention measures, but Sawant’s original bill is seriously flawed, in my opinion, and the analysis put forward in support of it was inadequate.

All of us want to prevent homelessness and we continue to increase those positive efforts; therefore, it’s disappointing and misleading whenever Councilmember Sawant mischaracterizes legitimate concerns with her unfunded bill as somehow destined to contribute to homelessness.

I believe this type of government assistance and intervention to pay lawyers for any residential tenant — regardless of their income or the reason for the eviction proceedings — should be budgeted, rather than dictated or mandated permanently. In fact, we added money for these legal services already in our most recent annual budget process just a few months ago. Even as new federal relief dollars flow, we must continue to monitor the eviction situation for the actual need and then respond accordingly — as we will with all other budget priorities facing our city. Singling out this issue over other needs of our city and its residents is fiscally irresponsible and creates false promises.

I would have been able to vote Yes for this bill if it had been focused and funded. When promising to provide city tax dollars to private individuals, I believe we should:

  • subsidize those who are truly in need (such as low income residents only),
  • target help only to those tenants who cannot afford to pay their rent due to extraordinary circumstances (non-payment of rent rather than other violations of the lease),
  • support fiscal responsibility: instead of creating an unfunded mandate, let’s acknowledge that it can be funded only to the extent our city budget can afford it as we also strive to fund childcare, public safety, supports for those experiencing homelessness, transit subsidies, utility discounts, and the list goes on and on.

But, unfortunately, the current version of Sawant’s bill is un-targeted and un-funded legislation that ties the city taxpayers to unknown (unquantified) financial requirements to pay for lawyers for anyone of any income level — for all time.

Note: Sawant’s bill was scheduled for a vote at the full City Council on March 15, 2021, but six Councilmembers (including me) voted to delay it for two weeks for a variety of reasons, including the Mayor’s extension of the eviction moratorium and a desire by some Councilmembers to amend the bill (something that should have happened when it was in Councilmember Sawant’s Committee). While I have supported and will continue to support eviction prevention and low-income tenant supports, Councilmember Sawant’s bill would need to amended substantially for me to change my vote.  In the meantime, the eviction moratorium remains in place and substantial new dollars will be flowing from the $1.9 Trillion relief package signed recently by President Biden.

Update to this post on March 29, 2021: Later at the meeting of the full City Council, this bill was substantially amended with Amendments 1, 2, 3, 4 and so I was able to vote for the final, amended version. Here are the remarks I made at the full City Council meeting: “To enact laws strong enough to survive scrutiny — so that we can actually help our most vulnerable neighbors — policymakers need the time to think through the various ramifications and, because we took the time in this case, we were able to consider and approve sensible amendments to make this legislation better — and so I am able to update my vote to YES.”  While I remain concerned this bill creates a first-of-its-kind, un-quantified mandate instead of prudently being “subject to budget discussions and available appropriations,” the combination of the four amendments enabled me to update my vote to YES. The amendments (a) target the bill to those who truly cannot afford an attorney, (b) focus the tax dollars on actual legal representation in the courtroom (instead of just vague advocacy), (c) require reports, and (d) prompt the city department to conduct an open, competitive process to allocate the tax dollars to qualified attorney nonprofits.  It will be important to see how this legislation impacts not only tenants but also smaller landlords (those owning fewer than 5 units) because those smaller “mom & pop” landlords provide important housing opportunities to Seattle’s residents.


UPDATE January 28, 2021 (excerpt from newsletter):

Eviction Moratorium Extended by Feds, Governor, and Mayor (to March 31, 2021)

The risk of evictions is concerning to many as we continue to experience the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic. In the City of Seattle, the Mayor on December 15, 2020 extended her eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021. The Governor’s State eviction moratorium was also recently extended to March 31, 2021. Proclamation 20-19.5 extends state rental assistance programs to incorporate the newly approved federal funding for rental assistance. Furthermore, the stated goal of these rental assistance programs is modified to provide a path for landlords, property owners, and property managers to initiate an application for rental assistance. The proclamation also clarifies that landlords and property owners may communicate with tenants in support of their applications for rental assistance.

However, I recognize that federal and state action must also occur to prevent foreclosures. The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will extend their moratorium evictions until February 28, 2021. The federal government has extended its moratorium protecting mortgages under jurisdiction of HUD (FHA-insured) to March 31st . Unfortunately, these foreclosure moratoriums apply only to mortgages on single-family homes. We also need a foreclosure moratorium for multifamily housing (apartment buildings), which can be done only at the state and federal levels, according to banking laws. A multifamily housing foreclosure moratorium is needed to enable apartment owners to survive which can, in turn, help renters. We have asked our Office of Intergovernmental Relations to track this possibility.


May 11, 2020 UPDATE:

Council Bill 119788: Payment Plans for Residential Tenants (COVID-related). I voted Yes. Bill Title: “AN ORDINANCE relating to residential rental agreements; allowing residential tenants to pay rent in installments when the tenant is unable to timely pay rent; declaring an emergency; and establishing an immediate effective date; all by a 3/4 vote of the City Council.”

Council Bill 119787: Preventing the use of eviction history to be considered during — and up to 6 months after — the Mayor’s Civil Emergency period I voted No. Bill Title: “AN ORDINANCE relating to the use of eviction records; regulating the use of eviction history in residential housing; prohibiting landlords from considering evictions related to COVID-19 during and after the civil emergency; amending the title of Chapter 14.09 and Sections 14.09.005, 14.09.010, 14.09.020, and 14.09.030 of, and adding a new Section 14.09.026 to, the Seattle Municipal Code; declaring an emergency; and establishing an immediate effective date; all by a 3/4 vote of the City Council.

Excerpt of my prepared remarks: “I’m becoming increasingly concerned that we are seeing bills that invoke the emergency legislative clause of our City Charter (which enables legislation to take effect immediately) for time periods that last well beyond the declared emergency. [City Charter, Title IV, Section I (i)]

I have supported the eviction restrictions in two ground-breaking bills recently adopted by this City Council. I am, however, voting No on this bill because I believe…

_its far-reaching impacts are rushed with only 7 days to consider it;

_ it does not, in my opinion, to meet the test that it is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety;

_it does not exempt smaller landlords;

_ I am in favor of fairness about eviction records during this COVID crisis. The legislation in front of us today, however, covers a longer time period well into the future. To be clear, this legislation would be not just for a few months after the Mayor’s eviction moratorium ends, but after the declared “emergency” ends. This is an important point.  The emergency as declared by the Mayor is likely to stay in place for several months — if not for more than a year — AFTER the eviction moratorium ends. The Mayor is likely to keep her emergency declaration in place long after the eviction moratorium ends because we may need it in place to maximize funding and reimbursement from the federal government.  We just do not know for how long it will last and yet today we are setting in stone a specified time frame for additional, hyper-specific regulations and top of previous regulations.”


May 4, 2020 UPDATE: Additional Defense from Eviction (COVID-related)

City Council approves additional defense from eviction for renters suffering financial hardship for one-time, 6-month “ramp down” following COVID (Council Bill 119784; I voted Yes.)

Today the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 119784, introduced by Council President Lorena Gonzalez to provide residential renters facing financial hardship with an additional defense against eviction for 6 months after the Mayor’s eviction moratorium ends.

The Mayor extended her evictions moratorium — which is a stronger outright prohibition on evictions — to June 4, to align with the Governor’s COVID-related policies. Today’s new — and temporary — policy adopted by the City Council is not a moratorium or ban on evictions, but rather another option tenants can use as a financial defense if a landlord attempts to evict them during the following six months. Think of it as a “ramp down” or “phasing out” of the stronger protections for tenants during this extraordinary time.

What follows below is A LOT of words to explain my “Yes” vote, but my decision ultimately boils down to one thing: COVID. I believe no one wants to see vulnerable people evicted during a homelessness crisis compounded by a pandemic.

Here is additional background on the approved legislation:

  • This temporary evictions law is a time-limited (one 6-month period) option during this extraordinary public health and economic crisis for renters who also certify their financial hardship to a judge. The rent is still owed and, if not paid, that debt will accumulate and should ultimately be paid.
  • Fortunately, all levels of government are adding money to programs for eviction prevention and rental assistance, which should reduce financial hardship and the need for the eviction defense.
  • Moreover, landlords can still evict tenants for several legitimate reasons other than failure to pay rent during this period, pursuant to the City’s Housing Code (see Title 22 of the Seattle Municipal Code, Section 22.206.160).

Note: Because the legislation was introduced and approved as an “emergency” ordinance, it becomes law only if/when Mayor Jenny Durkan signs it. (Under our City Charter, a typical Council bill becomes law unless the Mayor vetoes it. In other words, if the Mayor refuses to sign a typical Council bill, it becomes law anyway. Not so with an “emergency” ordinance, which requires not only 7 votes from Council instead of 5, but also an affirmative signature from the Mayor.) According to the Seattle Times May 4 article, Mayor Durkan “‘believes people should be able to stay in place‘ and intends to sign González’s bill, spokesman Ernie Apreza said.”

My office received many e-mails in favor of the proposal and many e-mails against it. To reconcile these opposite views, I conducted additional research and proposed amendments (see below). As with the moratorium on evictions during the coldest winter months adopted by the City Council this past February, this vote on CB 119784 was a difficult policy decision for me. The vote was challenging not only because of the differing views of my own constituents, but also because the Council was again breaking new ground to go beyond what other cities have tested. While breaking new ground might sound exciting to some, I prefer a methodical approach that analyzes data along the way to make sure we are not overreaching in a way that creates unintended consequences or attracts costly lawsuits that overturn our policy.

I proposed three amendments:

  1. Exempt Small Landlords (Failed): My amendment to exempt the smallest landlords (4 or fewer units) was rejected 8-1. I have heard from many smaller landlords in my district who are suffering their own financial hardships with mortgage payments, real estate taxes, property insurance, utility bills, and repairs. Unlike the City Council’s approval of my exemption for small landlords in February 2020 for the moratorium on evictions during the winter months, today my colleagues argued that COVID makes the situation extraordinary and today’s bill is temporary (just the 6 months in 2020; not every year).
  2. Require Tenants to Certify Financial Hardship (Passed!): One of the concerns with the original bill introduced by Council President Gonzalez is that renters might be able to pay rent, but choose not to pay rent. My amendment requires tenants to certify to a judge that they cannot afford it. “The tenant has submitted a declaration or self-certification asserting the tenant has suffered a financial hardship and is therefore unable to pay rent.”
  3. Receive Reports on the Law’s Implementation (Failed): While statistics were put forward by proponents of the legislation, when I asked to amend the proposal to require the city departments to report back to us on the data and effectiveness of the proposal, my colleagues voted 8-1 to reject my amendment. Their rationale was that this law will be for only 6 months and that the city government does not already collect data on evictions. Very disappointing!

The amendment accepted by my Council colleagues (for tenants to certify their financial hardship to a judge) combined with the one-time, short-term nature of the ordinance — during the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID public health and economic crisis — led me to join my Council colleagues and vote for the amended bill.

  • For the press release from Council President Gonzalez, CLICK HERE.
  • For the Seattle Times article covering the Council’s discussion and vote, CLICK HERE.

There is more legislation on the way from my colleagues to regulate landlord-tenant relations that will attempt to supersede existing rental agreements already in place. I’m concerned that this new legislation will use a crystal ball to cover longer time periods too far into the future, will not provide corresponding relief to the housing providers (such as helping them to pay their mortgages, property taxes, property insurance, etc), and will ignore the boost in unemployment insurance payments and rental assistance programs.

It’s important for me to emphasize that, while I have supported legislation specifically targeted to reduce evictions during hard times, I absolutely oppose the irresponsible calls for a “rent strike.” For the Seattle Times article on that, CLICK HERE. Rent is still due. If you’re having trouble paying your residential rent, CLICK HERE and HERE. If you’re a housing provider (landlord), CLICK HERE.


March 3, 2020: CIVIL EMERGENCY ORDER, CITY OF SEATTLE, MORATORIUM ON RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS

Note: This moratorium was extended several times, in concert with Governor Inslee’s moratorium, until June 30, 2021.

A. Effective immediately, a moratorium on residential evictions is hereby ordered until the earlier of the termination of the civil emergency declared in the Proclamation of Civil Emergency dated March 3, 2020 or 60 days from the effective date of this Emergency Order. The decision to extend the moratorium shall be evaluated and determined
by the Mayor based on public health necessity;
B. A residential landlord shall not initiate an unlawful detainer action, issue a notice of termination, or otherwise act on any termination notice, including any action or notice related to a rental agreement that has expired or will expire during the effective date of this Emergency Order, unless the unlawful detainer action or action on a termination notice
is due to actions by the tenant constituting an imminent threat to the health or safety of neighbors, the landlord, or the tenant’s or landlord’s household members. Further, no late fees or other charges due to late payment of rent shall accrue during the moratorium; and
C. It shall be a defense to any eviction action that the eviction of the tenant will occur during the moratorium, unless the eviction action is due to actions by the tenant constituting an imminent threat to the health or safety of neighbors, the landlord, or the tenant’s or landlord’s household members. For any pending eviction action, regardless if the tenant has appeared, a court may grant a continuance for a future hearing date in order for the eviction action to be heard after the moratorium a court may grant a continuance for a future court date in order for the matter
to heard at a time after the moratorium is terminated; and
D. Effective immediately, the Sheriff of King County is requested to cease execution of eviction orders during the moratorium.”

For the full Civil Emergency Order temporarily banning most residential evictions during the COVID emergency, CLICK HERE.


February 11, 2020 (copy of original post):

My vote to limit winter evictions during our homelessness crisis (Council Bill 119726; Ordinance 126041)

In a surprising 7-0 vote this afternoon, the City Council passed an audacious ordinance prohibiting larger landlords from evicting low and moderate income tenants in Seattle during the 3 coldest months of December, January, and February, with exceptions for criminal and unsafe activities and other just causes for eviction.

The vote was surprising because I voted in favor of it, even though I had signaled my substantial concerns.

Why? The short answer is that the original legislation was improved substantially by a slew of amendments from various Councilmembers, including me. Moreover, in the midst of our deliberations, it was clear this legislation had overwhelming support to pass — so I believe it was then my job to make the inevitable legislation better, rather than be the lone ”no” vote on worse legislation.

I was relieved that the Council approved my amendment to exempt “small landlords,” defined as those with an ownership interest in four or fewer units. Small landlords were literally excluded from the table during Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s committee, but those “mom and pop” local landlords got their message through regardless: they are able to offer rental units to the housing market only if they can collect the rent needed to pay their mortgage, utilities, insurance, taxes, and maintenance. I heard over and over in person and by email from constituents that this was their main concern, and I tailored my amendment to address this concern. I could not stop the legislation but, in a close 4-3 vote, I was able to make it more reasonable.

While the Committee rejected my amendment to apply the winter eviction moratorium just to very low-income tenants in housing that received city-government financial assistance, the Council approved an amendment to limit it to low and moderate income people (those earning the area median income or less).

What’s next? I appreciate the valid concerns raised by Mayor Durkan and her key department heads. If Mayor Durkan vetoes the legislation, it would return to the City Council, which would need to muster at least 6 votes to overturn it. I welcome further discussion, especially about the additional funding needed to prevent evictions and our mutual desire to avoid a successful legal challenge. The point, after all, is to prevent evictions to stop exacerbating our homelessness crisis during the coldest months, rather than to engage in long and expensive legal battles.

To watch the video on Seattle Channel, go to minute 57:51: https://www.seattlechannel.org/FullCouncil/?videoid=x111178

Here is a link to the Seattle Times article: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-approves-legislation-protecting-renters-from-wintertime-evictionsme-evictions/ Here’s an excerpt from that article: “Before voting 7-0, the council trimmed the period covered by the legislation from five months to three months; limited the rule to low- and moderate-income tenants; and exempted landlords with four or fewer housing units. The legislation is meant to prevent most evictions during the coldest months for people behind on their rent. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, expressed disappointment with the amendments, calling them loopholes…”

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More Information:

For relevant City of Seattle guidance and regulations impacting renters and landlords, CLICK HERE.

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