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‘The most precarious situation that we’ve ever seen’ — Seattle considers right to counsel and extending COVID-19 crisis eviction moratorium through 2021 — UPDATE

Items left outside after a past Capitol Hill eviction (Image: CHS)

The Seattle City Council is set to vote Monday on “right to counsel” legislation that would entitle anyone facing eviction to an attorney at no cost.

Under the bill, sponsored by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections would contract with a group of local attorneys and would be required to educate tenants about the new right to counsel in various languages. Similarly, landlords would be required to let their tenants know in eviction notices that they have this right.

Tenants would not have to accept counsel, but the measure would require that they be offered an attorney at no cost.

The councilmember and others are also calling for extension of the city’s eviction moratorium through 2021.

UPDATE 2:55 PM: Monday brought a mixed bag for Seattle tenants rights advocates with Mayor Jenny Durkan announcing the city’s ban on evictions will be extended through June while the City Council opted to hold off on Sawant’s “right to counsel” bill citing concerns about legal issues around the proposal. The council voted 6 to 3 to move a vote on the bill to the March 29th session. Teresa Mosqueda and Tammy Morales joined Sawant in opposing the delay. Sawant was vocal in her frustration, accusing council president Lorena González and opponents of trying to weaken the bill.

Meanwhile, Durkan said “while there is hope on the horizon, the work of recovery is just beginning,” in extending the moratorium. “Seattle residents and businesses continue to feel the economic impact of this pandemic, and we will not successfully recover if we do not include the recovery needs of low-income communities and small businesses,” Durkan said. “Extending the eviction moratorium provides housing stability for our neighbors as new federal funding arrives.”

Original report: Sawant, “eviction defense experts,” and renter advocates were part of a Monday morning press conference where the District 3 rep’s office says they will explain “why the Seattle City Council should strike a double blow at evictions today, and vote for the Right to Counsel legislation without loopholes” and the moratorium extension resolution.

With Seattle and the state’s moratorium on all evictions during the COVID-19 crisis slated to end this month, Sawant is championing a resolution calling on the city to extend the prohibition through the end of the year. 50 community groups and tenants rights organizations have also called on Durkan to extend the restrictions. In February, a King County Superior Court judge upheld the city’s ban.

To provide eviction defense services, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections has contracted with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project since 2019. Edmund Witter, the project’s senior managing attorney, said they handle about 2,500 eviction cases per year across King County and the legal assistance usually costs between $300 and $500.

 

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In 2017, over 23% of Seattle tenants with legal counsel remained housed, compared to 14.6% of those without counsel, according to an HJP and Seattle Women’s Commission report of over 1,200 evictions from 2018. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, tenants with an attorney remained housed 86% of the time, a difference which the report attributes to weak tenant protections here and the “lack of a centralized, efficient eviction prevention system.”

“One of the things that we need to do is make the process less complicated to navigate,” Witter told CHS. “It might be the case that if you’re a tenant who is behind on the rent, you might be given 15 different phone numbers to call and I think that there is a narrative that says that that’s increasing accessibility, but actually I think it’s my experience that it has the opposite effect.”

The system has become even more difficult for renters to navigate as the law constantly evolves during the COVID-19 pandemic, Witter noted.

“Frankly, the law has been changing, it feels like, every three weeks over the last year and you need people who are going to be attuned to that,” he said.

The report also found that more than half of the tenants in eviction filings were people of color and women were more likely to be evicted over small amounts of money. The vast majority of evictions (86.5%) were for nonpayment of rent and of those, over half were for one month’s rent or less.

The main reasons for falling behind on rent reported were loss of employment, a medical emergency, or a death in the family, all reasons that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Nearly three-quarters of the tenants interviewed said they could pay all or a portion of the rent owed, according to the report.

Over 4,500 evictions are filed in King County each year, but that’s just a fraction of the overall, Witter said, because tenants, daunted by the paperwork and the possibility of having an eviction on their record, will often see eviction notices and just move.

Earlier this month, the council bill passed 3-1 through the Sawant-chaired Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee, with Councilmember Alex Pedersen voting against it, potentially concerned about whether this should be targeted specifically to low-income tenants and if it should only require counsel for those evicted specifically for nonpayment of rent.

The cost of such a program and how it would get funded remains somewhat of an open question. The Seattle Times notes that San Francisco budgeted over $10 million for its similar right to counsel law.

At the state level, Capitol Hill’s Rep. Nicole Macri is the primary sponsor of a bill that would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants. The proposal, which passed the House on a largely party-line vote this month, would require landlords to specify a reason —  such as failure to pay rent, sexual harassment, or breaking the law — for evicting tenants living under certain leases.

“Renters are in the most precarious situation that we’ve ever seen,” Macri said at a virtual town hall Saturday.

Another measure in Olympia would require that landlords offer tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic a repayment plan. It would also require that courts appoint counsel for tenants earning income under 200% of the federal poverty level, which comes out to under $35,000 for a family of two and about $53,000 for a family of four.

It would cost over $11 million per year to provide attorneys to eligible tenants facing eviction, according to the state Office of Financial Management. This legislation passed through the state Senate on a mostly party-line vote earlier this month and is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in a House committee.

 

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Michael Byrd
Michael Byrd
8 months ago

If this report is accurate why wouldn’t the city just pay the tenants rent? If they are only a month behind it will be cheaper and better for everyone. The city council over complicates these issues and wastes everyone’s time and money, I also would like to see vouchers given to the real homeless rather then house them in sheds with no running water.

PJT
PJT
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Byrd

The same city shut down the 8 bed detox they didn’t want to run in the first place. Thus the storage sheads without running water. They don’t really care. It’s just lip service. A free attorney doesn’t change the fact they can’t pay their rent.
So the property owners should just let people live rent free? 🙄 I don’t want to see thousands on the street. At the same time the bank wants their money so what’s the plan to really help everyone?

Aleta Welch
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Byrd

Mr. Byrd,
What do you mean by sheds with no running water? DESC has purchased three or so motels for the homeless, and King Cty is stepping in to purchase around a dozen motels this year to house the homeless.
Are you talking about those tiny houses on Capitol Hill?

HTS3
HTS3
8 months ago

Of course the narrative of this article focuses on tenants. Again, these elected officials are addressing this issue superficially. Of course evictions are a huge problem. But addressing it without any conversation about the realities faced by landlords is irresponsible. They seem to see all landlords as huge corporations with deep pockets, stealing money from their poor tenants. Many landlords are families that have one or two properties that they rent out. It’s their small business and in many cases their retirement income. Yet all of these moves to grant extra rights to tenants, comes at the expense of fewer rights and income to these small landlords. Their mortgages don’t get waived. Their property taxes don’t go down. Their water and energy bills don’t go down. I am not one of these landlords, but I do see the inequity of these actions. They propose spending $11,000,000 to pay for attorneys for tenants, but not a penny to give relief to these small businesses that they are attacking. My two cents.

Tom R
Tom R
8 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

Yeah, as a current renter who’s generally for tenant protections… if I understand this correctly, no way I’d ever consider renting out part of a house or ADU in Seattle long-term after this. On the whim of the city council you might be stuck with a non-paying tenant in your house for over a year?
Hopefully there’s some sort of exception for small landlords I haven’t heard about.

PJT
PJT
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom R

I rented out a room in my house. Thank God I was able to get her out before the pandemic hit. Or she would have gotten 2 years of free rent. This person rents a room then gets a false protection order and gets the home owner kicked out..They then live rent free for another month or 2 while they try to get her out. Unfortunately this didn’t show on a background check. Seeing all of the changes to rental laws I’ve noticed that some are selling their rentals or charging more for deposit and monthly rent to off set potential losses.

Galina Betz
Galina Betz
8 months ago
Reply to  PJT

that is what’s going to happen. Rental criteria will get more stringent, which will make most vulnerable unable to get housing. deposits will have to go up. Rent will go up because they tie deposits limits to rents. if they implement rent control landlords will be forced to get compensated in other ways, like forgoing upgrades, and raising rents as much as possible whenever possible.

Galina Betz
Galina Betz
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom R

I am a very small landlord I came to this country with 100.00 and did not ask for a handout from anyone. I did not come from a prominent brahmin family, pretending to know what it’s like to be a part of the 99%. I was the 99%. I saved instead of travelling to socialist party conventions all over the world. and now I am forced to provide free housing by the city council members who grew up in privilege and want to keep spending other people’s money on their irresponsible initiatives, that will backfire. they don’t care about the low income tenants or the homeless. they created the problems of high rents and homelessness with their restrictive policies, and are now pretending to solve them. all they care about is power.

district13tribute
district13tribute
8 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

If you expect any type of legislation from Councilmember Sawant that is balanced you are looking in the wrong place. She is quite clear in her belief that landlords and business owners hold all the power and her goal is to pass legislation to undermine that power. Rational people know that is not true but Sawant is an activist politician and an ideologue who has no interest in viewing things from different perspectives. The irony in this legislation is that the city of Seattle (via LIHI) has one of the highest rates of eviction in the city (https://publicola.com/2019/02/13/why-does-this-seattle-affordable-housing-provider-evict-so-many-tenants/) so they’ll basically be paying to defend people from themselves.

Thomas Street
Thomas Street
8 months ago

LIHI should never ever get another contract in this city. Can someone please tell me why Seattle keeps giving the same people these contracts when the result are the same NOTHING. And as for Sharon Lee you should be ashame of yourself you had someone evicted because of 4 DOLLARS how in the hell do you sleep at night. And as for the scam they are calling the LIHI the only people that they are helping is themselves. Someone might ask how I could say this because I have dealt with these crooks and will tell you there was no case manger only a VERY NASTY MANAGER who lied and after I went out and got the help that was needed thank you (WELLSPRINGS) she took the money and then refused my rent payment the last month of my lease. LIHI knew of the situation that I was dealing with (having to pay for meds one was 700 dollars a month) giving me a hard time about my service dog I could go on and on about this. I called LIHI sent emails to this Sharon Lee her assistant and got nothing ended up in court where the overworked people at Housing Justice Project made a mistake causing a judgment against me that lead to a limited dismanation that is still causing problems.I have worked all my life then in 2013 my life changed couldn’t work anymore became homeless almost died got back on my feet got my social security only to treated like dirt by these crooks.I pray that Sharon Lee or any of her family never end up like myself and so many other people in this city or county HOMELESS and nowhere to turn

Galina Betz
Galina Betz
8 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Street

I am very sorry for all of your problems, but why do you think your landlord should be footing the bill? you don’t go to the grocery store, fill up your cart and take the groceries without having to pay, do you?

Thomas Street
Thomas Street
8 months ago
Reply to  Galina Betz

Never said they should we were talking about the sheisty LIHI (Sharon How Do You Sleep At Night Lee) and that they had the highest rate of eviction per the low income providers that Seattle keeps giving contracts to. And the city’s about to give them another brand new apartment building on Capitol Hill that was donated to the city of Seattle.

James T.
James T.
8 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

Nobody thinks of the poor landlords trying to get money for free without working! That’s literally all that is. Landlords can get a job if they can’t afford to pay a mortgage.

Cheeseslinger John
Cheeseslinger John
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

James you ignoramus. Landlords have to spend a lot of money on the properties they rent out. Property taxes, mortgages, upkeep on roof and plumbing and a bunch of other stuff. Those are fixed costs whether they receive rent or not. You have a child like view of the world and economics.

James T.
James T.
8 months ago

Aww poor them. They spent “lots of money” you mean bare minimum to get the place quasi inhabitable and then make 20x that money back charging rent. Please.

slider292
slider292
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

If you think rentals are only “quasi-inhabitable” now, just wait until the rent control laws that you and your comrades are pushing kick in…

R U Serious?
R U Serious?
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

If your landlord is making a 20x profit, then you are an idiot and you agreed to pay a rent rate that is much, much, higher than market. I suspect you’re just pulling numbers out of your backside, but if it is actually real then you should consider moving to a different apartment ASAP.

Larry Calvin
Larry Calvin
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Way off base buddy! Many landlords work already and as previously stated this is their retirement income. If it’s so easy for the landlord to get a job, then why can’t the tenant find a job to pay the rent?

James T.
James T.
8 months ago
Reply to  Larry Calvin

Landlords are 200:1 ratio to tenants so what are you talking about? Landlords don’t keep their rate at the market of the average salary but inflate the market with major developers in the region.

CH Resident
CH Resident
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

What makes you think that they don’t work, and that, especially for mom and pops trying to get supplemental income from rentals or use it for retirement income, they are undeserving of aid or understanding as well as anyone else? Also, who do you think the cost of legal fees will be passed along to? It’ll be you, the renter. So, thank idiotic legislation like this for your raising rents. And also maybe dream up a way to pay for the program while you’re at it.

HTS3
HTS3
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Hey James, you must be one of those who sees landlords as being of the “lording of the realm” variety.” The landlords I know, happen to be people who have invested in ra duplex or home they can rent, instead of a 401K or the stock market. They believe in creating homes for people as their business. You are in support of small businesses, right? Well, this is the business they are in. But with the vote of some City Council people, who say they are trying to help people with housing, actually have the opposite effect. Just my two cents.

PJT
PJT
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

The cost of evicting someone is in the thousands. If a renter trashed the place the landlord covers that cost as well. It’s not just cashing checks.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Wow, I’d love to live in your world, where apparently no one ever stops up a toilet, or overflows a sink, walls paint themselves and carpets are self scrubbing, grass magically stays at the perfect length and the trees graciously drop their leaves into your waiting bag, faucets refuse to drip and roofing materials and appliances last forever and ever.
Must be nice to live in that fantasy world where owning a rental requires no work and the mortgage is the only expense so that it just gives you tons of free money.
Clearly you’ve never been a small landlord….. (and neither have I been, but my parents were, in addition to their full time day jobs, so I know just how much hard work it really is)

Galina Betz
Galina Betz
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

this is job. it’s my property that I paid for. why don’t you get a job to pay the rent?

AMANTE f TADIQUE
AMANTE f TADIQUE
8 months ago
Reply to  HTS3

True. I know of the one rental being sold now because of these city and state policies only protecting the renter, owned by a single mom who has to suffer total losses while tenants take advantage. Too much risk to rent out now, and these laws just encourage abuse .

fro
fro
8 months ago

I haven’t heard anyone discuss all the organizations that will help pay for rent, many of these have been funded by the state and the feds so people won’t face eviction. It seems responsible people have gotten help or moved.

Glenn
Glenn
8 months ago

Landlord here. Fund rent relief at adequate levels now to address tenants who are behind in rent due to COVID-19. Permanently fund need based, easily accessible rent relief citywide to address individual issues in the future. Simplify the eviction process and fund tenant legal assistance at much lower levels (need based) to ensure people understand the process and can obtain legal assistance for non-monetary evictions.
These are the solutions that would be seriously entertained if we had more than on voice being heard at Council. We don’t, and that needs to change.

James T.
James T.
8 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

There are 99% more tenants than you. So no, it doesn’t need to change. Landlords are free to get another job or sell their place after someone’s lease is up.

Glenn
Glenn
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

James, did you even read anything that I wrote? It was really pretty reasonable. I like my tenants and I want them to be able to pay their rent and flourish in other aspects of their lives. When they struggle I am willing to help, as I am now, and as I have many times in the past.
In this case, the problem is larger and i think the city is shifting responsibility to private parties, such as landlords. I would prefer the burden be shared more broadly by the city providing need based rental assistance. That would allow struggling tenants to remain in their homes while landlords are able to maintain those properties, pay their mortgages, etc.
The solutions we seek don’t have to be either or, landlords or tenants. They can be both. I suggest you try opening your mind a bit. I suggest the same for Council, and believe it would be more effective with greater diversity of opinions represented.

Aleta Welch
8 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

Dear Glenn,
I think he’s trolling and toying with you.

CH Resident
CH Resident
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

Since it’s so easy to get a job, why don’t the people not paying rent just do that?

Galina Betz
Galina Betz
8 months ago
Reply to  Glenn

as landlords we should boycott this moratorium policy by refusing to rent vacant units. I would rather have it clean and empty if I don’t get the rent anyway

Soo Valley
Soo Valley
8 months ago
Reply to  Galina Betz

I have a very nice 2-bdrm, 1-bth home in north Seattle that I have rented out for more than 20 years, with never a month of downtime. On June 30, my last tenant moved out to work from (her parents’) home in another state, and I shuttered the place. It is still vacant and will remain so as long as the eviction moratorium is in place or until I decide to finally sell it. If I decide to do that, it will almost certainly be bought by a developer, torn down, and replaced with a multi-million dollar home. So much for affordable housing.

Nope
Nope
8 months ago

Say farewell to a lot of affordable units – back to Airbnb where you are protected against no payment and can remove for trespass at end of stay. The obvious ask is to allow for eviction of the tenant is actually earning enough to pay but has decided not to. Otherwise I’d buy a tent unless you have a big tech paystub to show. Renting is not worth the risk.

Aleta Welch
8 months ago
Reply to  Nope

Seattle has already said goodbye to affordable apts. A two bedroom with less than 900 sq. ft goes at market rate for about $2300, give or take a few huns.
Micro units are about $1500 to $1800.

Nope
Nope
8 months ago
Reply to  Aleta Welch

I was renting out my MIL for $1200 inc utility. 1bed, own kitchen and bath on cap hill. It’s really just way too risky now – do you really want to hand over keys to someone who you can never remove and doesn’t have to pay while you cover all their costs. Lots of possible MIL in Seattle, but no one is going to do it anymore.

Tom
Tom
8 months ago
Reply to  Nope

You are making a big deal out of nothing. Don’t you do a background check? Pretty much everyone renting on the hill is in tech, young, no kids, decent salary.

Nope
Nope
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom

You just can’t tell. As I said below, only rent to folks in tech is a solution but not many are looking for basement MIL. Airbnb is easiest answer and better $$ when pandemic is over. My point is simply that the low end units are the most vulnerable to abuse and will be the ones that go away because of risk.

Mark
Mark
8 months ago

I’m guessing that Sawant, et al are not landlords….

Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson
8 months ago

Central planning by government rarely works. Why not take the 11 million and pay the landlords? Instead, landlords are portrayed as evil. One day this will be over and the rental market will be changed forever. You will see month to month leases that expire at the end of each month, higher rents because many small landlords will sell their properties and get out if the business leaving big companies to control the market. The after effects of these bad ideas will last for decades.

Tom
Tom
8 months ago

Here come these financially savvy but poor landlords who suddenly can’t handle something equivalent to a down year. It is like they came into this discounting any risks and expecting a sure thing. They may be forced to sell and realize that 500% gain on top of years of rent they have already collected.

Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Why shouldn’t your theory apply to the government and they stop collecting taxes at the same time?

Tom
Tom
8 months ago
Reply to  Robert Johnson

Robert, the government doesn’t give reminders about how much better it is in making life decisions than the have-nots.

I am all for cutting defense and local police spending so the poor and the middle class can pay less taxes.

James T.
James T.
8 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Exactly! They can’t handle their poor investment so they hold tenants (human beings) at hostage because of their poor choices. If you can’t afford to keep your place afloat, then you shouldn’t be a landlord!

Nope
Nope
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

The answer is simple – 60 day notice and sell, or move a family member in. Farewell low cost rental unit.

Judy
Judy
8 months ago
Reply to  James T.

You are funny James T. I’m a landlord. It’s my job, not an investment. What’s with all the hate landlord vs. tenants. We are all people just trying to get by, and everyone is doing it a different way. Lots of ways to do the same thing. Life is not fair. If landlords can’t make it, they will find something else to do…but all of their apartments and homes could be gone for good = more homeless. Is that what you want? You are so mean, saying bad things about others just trying to make a living just like you are, and you don’t even know them or their story. Shame on you.

RWK
RWK
8 months ago

“To provide eviction defense services, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections has contracted with the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project since 2019. Edmund Witter, the project’s senior managing attorney, said they handle about 2,500 eviction cases per year across King County and the legal assistance usually costs between $300 and $500.”

It seems that there is already a program in place to do the same thing that Sawant is proposing, so why is she doing this? Answer: she has a constant need for media attention, especially now that she faces recall.

Charles Jacobs
Charles Jacobs
8 months ago

Only a moron and masochist would be a landlord in Seattle.