Evictions are costly and disruptive. They can start a person’s or family’s downward spiral to housing instability and homelessness.
But a Seattle ordinance that allows renters to stave off eviction based only on their own declaration of financial hardship is sloppy policy that unfairly burdens property owners. The Washington State Court of Appeals was right to strike down that component of the city’s comprehensive eviction protection measures. City officials should let the ruling stand.
During the pandemic-related shutdown, city and state officials worked diligently to prevent a tsunami of evictions, enacting policy changes intended to outlast the immediate crisis. In Seattle, those changes include a winter eviction ban that bars landlords from forcing tenants to vacate between Dec. 1 and March 1, and an ordinance that requires that landlords accept back rent in installments. The court affirmed the legality of those measures.
Other programs, including those that help bring tenants up-to-date on payments and offer free legal services to low-income tenants facing possible evictions, help to level the power imbalance between landlords and tenants.
However, the ordinance struck down by the Division 1 court is wildly out of balance. It allows renters to declare financial hardship as a defense against eviction for six months after the end of the eviction moratorium without giving landlords a chance to challenge tenants’ self-declaration. That violates landlords’ right to due process, the court ruled last month. That’s just common sense.
Housing stability is important. But eviction protections can’t be borne solely on the backs of landlords, who have their own bills to pay. City Attorney Ann Davison’s office is assessing the ruling’s implications and has not yet decided whether to seek review by the Supreme Court, says office spokesman Anthony Derrick. She should let this one go.
The city should instead double down on eviction protections like the King County Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program, which has distributed $256 million in rental assistance payments on behalf of more than 23,700 King County households just since July. To date, the program has provided $2.8 million in rent assistance to help households in eviction proceedings restore tenancy, King County Department of Community and Human Services spokeswoman Katie Rogers wrote in an email. That’s the right approach.