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New pandemic-era law caps rental backpay installments to 1/3 of rent in Seattle

The new law comes about two months after the city's eviction moratorium was allowed to expire.

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council passed another ordinance Tuesday, changing the rules for landlords collecting late rent from tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ordinance, put forth by Councilmember Dan Strauss, adjusts previous measures put into place by the council in the early days of the pandemic.

The new rules require landlords to cap repayment installments at one-third of the tenant’s rent, offer a “reasonable schedule” for the tenant to pay back what rent they owe and expand the rent covered to include not only the time of the city’s civil emergency but also six months after it comes to an end.

Under the previous ordinance passed in May 2020, renters only had up to six months to repay late rent and it only covered the period during Washington state’s public health emergency.

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“The initial repayment plan requirement we adopted was based on a two-month pandemic – this law updates our protections to reflect a two-plus year pandemic. These changes will reduce confusion about the protections that exist and will allow landlords to be made whole while reducing evictions,” Strauss said in a statement.

While neither Strauss nor the legislation gives any details on what a “reasonable” repayment schedule is, the legislation does require landlords to offer a reasonable repayment plan and give tenants two weeks to accept.

If the landlord doesn’t make this offer or doesn’t allow the tenant two weeks to accept, the tenant can raise this as a defense in eviction court.

The ordinance passed the council by a 7-1 vote, with Councilmember Sara Nelson the only one to vote in opposition.

Her opposition stemmed from what she said was a lack of input from landlords as well as concern that the new rules would extend the deadline for repayment and force small landlords to allow their properties to fall into disrepair.

“I'm just concerned about prolonging the time that these small landlords will have to get that money to maintain their properties and add additional uncertainty about when that might happen,” Nelson said just before the vote Tuesday.

In March, part of the city’s rules to prevent pandemic-caused evictions was struck down by the Washington State Court of Appeals.

The rule that allowed tenants to use the pandemic as an eviction defense six months after the city’s moratorium ended, which occurred on Feb. 28, was struck down because it “deprives the landlords of their property interest without due process by not affording them the opportunity to test the veracity of a tenant’s self-certification of financial hardship.”

Days before the moratorium expired, the council voted on a proposal to extend it, but it failed 5-3. Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said it was difficult to tell how many renters were actually benefitting from the moratorium.

Meanwhile, a recent study showed that nearly half of renters who are people of color in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area are not confident in their ability to pay rent.

The new Seattle ordinance now heads to Harrell’s desk for his signature.