Seattle’s ‘Eviction Defense for Renters’ hoped to give tenants added protection during COVID-19 economic fallout

Seattle has put a so-called “Eviction Defense for Renters” in place to protect tenants for six months after the state’s ban on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis is eventually lifted.

The Seattle City Council bill from president M. Lorena González addresses what comes after the state and city’s moratorium on evictions is lifted and provides “a defense a tenant may use for six months should a landlord take their tenant to eviction court” and establishes that renters can use “non-payment of rent for any reason as a defense to eviction, as long as they submit a declaration of financial hardship to the court,” an announcement on the bill’s passage reads.

“After the immediate health crisis is over, we know the economic ripple effects will be felt for some time. Tenants who have lost their jobs or seen their income significantly dropped during this pandemic need time to find their way back to economic stability. This legislation provides tenants recovering from this crisis an additional six months of housing stability through an added defense in eviction proceedings after the city’s eviction moratorium ends,” González said after the unanimous vote to pass the bill Monday afternoon. Continue reading

May Day: Sawant calls for ‘Rent Strike’ in Seattle — UPDATE

UPDATED 4/16/20 following our interview with council member Sawant

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant says the COVID-19 crisis calls for a rent freeze and relief for vulnerable populations dealing with economic hardship as thousands of workers have been laid off.

Her office representing Capitol Hill, the Central District, and nearby neighborhoods is now planning a May 1st rent strike to put pressure on landlords and politicians to get a statewide suspension of rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

“[T]he political establishment will not act, given their ties to corporate landlords and big business,” she said on Facebook. “It will take a real fight, it will take a Rent Strike! And we will need to be organized, building by building, neighborhood by neighborhood, while of course maintaining social distancing.”

While nearly 9,000 have signed a petition urging Gov. Jay Inslee to immediately enact such a suspension as well as a freeze on rent increases for the rest of the year, Sawant says more needs to be done.

“It’s not that anybody is telling them not to pay rent, they simply don’t have money to pay rent,” Sawant says of the call for a strike.

The Socialist Alternative council member says she is launching this new effort because “individual renters and families, working families, simply saying ‘Well I can’t pay rent, so I’m not gonna pay rent’ doesn’t protect you from eviction. That doesn’t protect you from the corporate landlords and the big banks.”

“We need to understand that renter organizing is no different fundamentally from workplace organizing.” First, she says, renters must collectively organize.

Continue reading

To weather COVID-19, Seattle freezes rent for small businesses

Work from artist James Spencer on E Olive Way’s Revolver

Seattle’s small businesses and nonprofits hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis got a small boost Monday as the City Council passed legislation that freezes their rents and enacts a ban on commercial eviction during the crisis in the form of negotiated “payment plan” requirements.

The legislation follows Mayor Jenny Durkan’s order prohibiting “the eviction of a small business or nonprofit tenant for non-payment of rent or because an existing lease terminated during the civil emergency period.”

“Small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and those forced to shut down are worried they won’t be able to restart their businesses after the initial crisis is over,” West Seattle representative Lisa Herbold said about the passage of her bill: Continue reading

To blunt COVID-19 crisis, Seattle leaders make call to cancel rent, house payments

It’s the end of the month and Capitol Hill and Central District renters know the check is due. For homeowners, it is time to pay the lenders.

With that in mind, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling on Gov. Jay Inslee and the federal government to impose an immediate moratorium on rent and mortgage payments as workers are laid off amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 133,000 Washingtonians filed for unemployment benefits from March 15-21, up from just over 14,000 the week before, according to the Employment Security Department, as the state’s moves to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus virus got more and more restrictive.

King County residents accounted for 37,296 of the jobless claims that week. More than 41,000 were in the accommodation and food services industry.

“All of us as a council is eager to make sure that we’re protecting our neighbors,” council member Tammy Morales said, adding she’s been getting hundreds of emails from worried constituents. Morales, the sponsor of the resolution, also said this effort is in tandem with legislators across the country, from San Francisco to Boston, who are working on similar measures to push federal lawmakers to act.

Last week, CHS reported on District 3’s Kshama Sawant calling for a COVID-19 rent freeze to combat “shockingly unconscionable” rent increases. Monday, she said a petition in support of the movement had over 6,300 signatures calling on Inslee to immediately suspend rent payments.

“Elected officials have a moral and political duty to ensure the burden of this serious crisis does not land on the same working people and marginalized communities who are already struggling under ‘normal’ periods of capitalism,” Sawant wrote in a letter to Inslee on Thursday. “It would be criminal to allow landlords to carry out rent increases during this pandemic, leading to further evictions and putting public welfare and health at grave risk.”

Monday, the resolution passed with Sawant unable to participate in the initial vote thanks to a momentary technological blip. The council held its session via teleconference, joining thousands of workers across the region under COVID-19 “work from home” restrictions. The District 3 representative said later that a technical difficulty prevented her from voting and that she was able to add her support. Continue reading

Super green Pike/Pine development unveils giant ‘Amaterasu’ mural, change from condo plans

The work, titled Amaterasu, peers over 13th Ave (Image: CHS)

It’s too early — and not enough is known — to call Capitol Hill’s spurt of condominium development over but a high profile project appears to be a sign that rent is still king in Pike/Pine.

If its quest for sustainability wasn’t enough, the giant, colorful, north-facing mural from “urban artist” Fin DAC has drawn plenty of attention to the nearly complete Solis development at 13th and Pike. But the project on a quest to be Capitol Hill’s — and Seattle’s –first Passive House-certified mixed-use project won’t come to market as condos as had been planned.

In an announcement, the developer announced the 45-unit building “will be retained by SolTerra’s investment group as an apartment community.” Continue reading

Sawant says she will make new push on Seattle rent control, ordinance against ‘Economic Evictions’

(Image: Seattle City Council)

Building on recommendations from the Seattle Renters’ Commission, City Council member Kshama Sawant announced two measures Monday aimed would alleviate some of the burden for Seattle renters. The first is a proposal to enact a Seattle rent control ordinance. The second, the Economic Evictions Assistance Ordinance, would look to protect tenants against substantial rent increases.

“We have two choices,” Sawant said at a Monday morning press conference at City Hall to announce her planned proposals. “One, just sit on our hands and expect that some day, in the distant future, the Democratic establishment will gather the courage to break from the real estate lobby and finally stand with us. We’ve done that kind of waiting for 40 years.”

“Or we can begin the fight here.” Continue reading

Kenton Apartments tenants say they’re facing another Capitol Hill ‘economic eviction’

(Image: Milestone Tenants Fight Back)

A group of tenants is hoping to organize against the new owners of the 1926-built Capitol Hill brick apartment building they call home and fight back against what they say is an “economic eviction” underway on 16th Ave E.

“Tenants have been here as long as 11 years and we’re invested in staying in our homes in a way that is affordable and sustainable,” the Milestone Tenants Fight Back group writes. “We know the only way to do this is through our collective action and with the support of our broader community. In other words, we want to stay and fight!”

According to King County records, a company operated by Milestone Properties closed its purchase of the Kenton Apartments for $4.6 million in late January. The owner and manager of apartments in Seattle’s University District, Queen Anne, Greenwood, Interbay, Capitol Hill, Fremont, and Wallingford neighborhoods purchased the 300-block 16th Ave E property from its longtime family owners. Continue reading

Born on Capitol Hill, Tenant Rights Bootcamps training renters for change in Seattle

(Image: Be:Seattle)

Devin Silvernail always starts with the basics: Read your lease, and know exactly what’s in it before you sign it. Document everything. Do everything in writing (and no, texting does not count). That’s the “tenant rights 101” many of us know.

But did you know that there’s a ban on source of income discrimination in Seattle? Or that landlords are prohibited by law to screen tenants based on criminal convictions? Or that there’s a cap on move-in fees for renters can be charged? That you can organize in a renters union in your building?

In the grand scheme of things, not that many people do. Silvernail, who organizes Tenant Rights Bootcamps all around Seattle, thinks they should. That’s why he’s made informing renters of their rights part of his life’s work. “Knowing your rights is a really powerful tool,” he says. “You can recognize when a situation isn’t good when you’re unjustly evicted or taken advantage of, or owed relocation assistance.”

When we get Silvernail on the phone, he’s out walking around Capitol Hill — where renters, including Silvernail himself, are the majority — posting bright yellow flyers up for an upcoming Tenant Rights Bootcamp this Wednesday, March 6 at Capitol Hill’s Wildrose bar. The event, geared towards the LGBTQ+ community, is co-organized with the Gender Justice League, the Tenants Union of Washington and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant who is running for reelection this year.

LGBTQ Community Tenant Rights Bootcamp

“A lot of LGBTQ+ folks wonder about background checks. If folks haven’t had the same name their whole lives, how does that affect them? Can their landlord refuse them? We can quell fears around that, as well as around discrimination and protected classes,” Silvernail says while the stapler clicks punctuate his words.

“Still, 99% of the workshop will apply to anyone, and open to everyone who wants to come.” Continue reading

Building by building, apartment by apartment, Capitol Hill short-term units coming back on market for long-term renters

This week, you could rent eight apartments in 15th Ave’s Murray Hill building for short-term stays. That will change by May 1st.

Seattle affordability warrior, before you begin your wave of Capitol Hill vigilantism against buildings you believe are skirting the city’s new short-term rental regulations, chill out and wait until May.

“We are planning a mixture of long term rental and Airbnb,” Cathy Qui tells CHS about the plan — within 120 days — for the Murray Hill Apartments, the 15th Ave building she and her husband purchased for just over $4.1 million last March. Continue reading

City Council begins work to address Seattle’s eviction problem

86.5% of eviction filings in the study were for nonpayment — more than half of those were for one month or less of unpaid rent (Source: Losing Home report)

Last year, a study of Seattle evictions showed disproportionate impacts to women and Black renters in the city and how evictions are tied to rising levels of homelessness and housing insecurity. In the first step toward working on legislation to address problems around evictions, the Seattle City Council is working on a new Eviction Prevention Resolution hoped to be introduced later this month.

“”I think the way we’ve structured this resolution is to be less focused on the identification of particular solutions, but instead working from the Losing Home report lifting up their identification of the problems and laying out a timeline for the council to work on identifying the solutions necessary to address those problems,” Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee chair Lisa Herbold said Tuesday in a discussion of an early draft of the resolution, below. Continue reading