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Mayor Durkan Proposes New Solution to Prevent Winter Evictions

Leveraging New Partnership with United Way King County Could Prevent Most Winter Evictions in Seattle

Highlights Concerns With Council’s Current Legislation Which Places Burden on Tenant to Appear in Court and Could Cost Lead to Costly Litigation

Seattle (Feb. 25, 2020) –  To effectively prevent winter evictions, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced a new partnership and legislation that will provide assistance for individuals who are facing winter eviction. After conversations with United Way of King County, an investment to build off the Seattle Human Services Department’s current prevention programs could allow the City to provide resources to individuals potentially facing evictions this upcoming winter.   

As currently written, Council Bill 119727 does not protect most vulnerable households at risk of evictions, and the City could incur potential litigation. In addition to spurring more evictions in the Spring, Council’s legislation did not ban winter evictions. Instead, it created a legal defense during eviction proceedings. It would require tenants to appear in court to use winter eviction as a defense. A recent study concluded nearly half of households failed to contest an eviction or appear in court.  

“As a young lawyer, I saw firsthand how devastating evictions can be in an one’s life. I first met Lola at a women’s shelter after she had been forced out of her home and onto the street. After months in court, I was able to prove she was wrongfully evicted and connect her with a new home, but she had spent months without a home because of lengthy legal proceedings. Providing the resources to help prevent eviction in the first place is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Durkan.  

To successfully help people at risk of eviction stay in their homes, Mayor Durkan will transmit a bill to City Council to increase funding assistance to tenants facing homelessness due to eviction between December 1 and March 1, building off of the Seattle Human Services Department’s existing program that served 974 unique households at risk of homelessness last year. In addition, her bill would require the development of a disclosure provision that will require landlords to make sure tenants are aware of the availability of winter eviction support and prevention resources.  

According to United Way of King County, which operates Home Base—an eviction prevention program, they anticipate 150 Seattle households will need Home Base eviction prevention services during the three-month period from December 1, 2020 – March 1, 2021. This is in line with reporting from the Seattle Times, which found that in 2019 there were approximately 139 evictions in the winter months in Seattle. The cost for Home Base services, inclusive of financial assistance, legal services, and program administration during this time period is projected to be $706,000. An investment of $200,000 would leverage $506,000 in private funding to avoid winter evictions. Last year, United Way’s Home Base helped more than 800 households avoid evictions. 

“Like the City of Seattle, we believe more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. That is why United Way is working with our philanthropic partners to bring Home Base, an eviction prevention program, to scale to prevent more people who have fallen behind in their rent from being evicted, ” said President & CEO of United Way of King Country Gordon McHenry, Jr. “The addition of public funding will ensure Seattle residents who are eligible for Home Base have access to eviction prevention.” 

“Providing assistance to tenants is the proven approach to prevent evictions. During Council deliberations, I passed an amendment to create a similar fund.  I’m proud to work with the Mayor, bringing this assistance forward as a way that ensures many more families who otherwise would face eviction, will remain housed,” said Councilmember Andrew Lewis. 

As written, Council Bill 119727 creates a potential defense that an individual can raise in court. In order for the defense to even be permissible in court, the tenant or tenant’s lawyer needs to appear in court in person to raise that argument. A study conducted by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project showed that nearly half of evictions ended in a default judgment because the tenant failed to contest the eviction or appear in court. In addition, the defense would no longer be valid beginning March 1st every year, which ultimately does not prevent the eviction. 

“Being progressive means more than slogans. If City Council wants to accomplish our shared goals to prevent winter evictions, then they should pass a bill to actually help people facing winter evictions. As Council knows, their bill will not prevent evictions – it places the full burden on the tenant and opens up the City to significant legal costs. As a City, we should be spending taxpayer dollars to help people – not hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to defend this bill. A real solution is to help households avoid the eviction process altogether,” continued Mayor Durkan.  

A 2018 report by Seattle Women’s Commission and the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project outlined six recommendations to address evictions: require landlords to offer payment plans, increase the time period to cure nonpayment of rent, increase subsidies to tenants at risk of eviction, centralize the process for obtaining assistance in one place, and build more housing for low and no-income residents, especially families.  

Mayor Durkan has been committed to addressing these actions since the beginning of her term.   

Throughout the 2019 legislative session, City leaders lobbied Olympia for significant changes to the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant act, after which the City of Seattle harmonized the “Just Cause” Eviction Ordinance. Those strengthened protections included: Increasing from three to 14 days the minimum time that a tenant has to pay or vacate their home; requiring at least 60 days’ notice for all rent increases; and limiting the potential for eviction based on fees unrelated to the rental costs of a home by standardizing the definition of “rent” to match the state law. 

Mayor Durkan took further steps, directing the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to draft more robust protections to increase the likelihood of keeping residents in their homes. Those methods include:  

  • Making it unlawful for a landlord to issue a notice to terminate tenancy, increase housing costs, or enter a home unless that notice references how to access the City’sRenting in Seattleprogram, a centralized resource of information on the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords; 
  • Requiring that landlords register with SDCI as part of theRental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO)before delivering a notice to terminate a tenancy, (prior to this change landlords were required to register with RRIO much later in the process, prior to the court authorizing the eviction);  
  • Requiring that receipts are exchanged for rental transactions; and  
  • Requiring that landlords allow payment of housing costs by cash, check, or other non-electronic means. 

In addition to these steps, SDCI is home to an eviction prevention fund that serves additional households.  

In 2018 Mayor Durkan also announced the Rental Housing Assistance Pilot program to help residents Seattle Housing Authority’s Section 8 vouchers but are at risk of homelessness with financial assistance as they await permanent housing.