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Part of Seattle tenant protection law struck down by Court of Appeals

The Seattle City Council passed a set of rules restricting evictions after the moratorium expired.

SEATTLE — A policy intended to reduce evictions following the end of Seattle's eviction moratorium was struck down by the Washington State Court of Appeals.

The Seattle City Council passed a set of rules restricting evictions after the moratorium expired. That included added defense for tenants fighting eviction, allowing them to self-certify they suffered financial hardship and couldn't pay rent.

A group of landlords sued the City of Seattle over the rules.

Though it upheld other protections, the Court of Appeals argued the six-month defense “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.” 

The lawsuit also challenged the city’s ban on evictions during winter months and a law allowing tenants to repay pandemic debt in installments. A King County Superior Court judge last year upheld all but one portion of the laws. The Court of Appeals affirmed that lower court ruling but added the decision against the six-month rule.

The Rental Housing Association of Washington, which represents landlords and sued the city over the rental regulations, said in a statement: “We are grateful for the Court’s decision, which stops the cycle of debt for housing providers and residents trapped in Seattle’s ongoing COVID-19 eviction ban.”

On Feb. 22, the Seattle City Council voted 5-3 against a proposal to extend the city's eviction moratorium for the eighth time since March 2020. The vote followed an announcement from Mayor Bruce Harrell that the moratorium would end on Feb. 28.

Seattle's eviction moratorium officially ended March 2, two years after it was enacted.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant called for the moratorium to continue through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. That end date has not been determined. Sawant argued the city is on the edge of an eviction crisis.

Following the court's ruling, Sawant issued a statement that reads, in part: 

"... Seattle’s ordinance creating a defense against eviction for the six months following the end of the covid emergency was unfortunately struck down in court, because the law is means tested, requiring renters to self-certify that they suffered financial hardship during the emergency, and the judge said that the landlord did not have a way to challenge those self certifications. As statistics show, and I have said repeatedly, these renter rights should never have been means tested at all. 

My office has not had a chance to discuss with the City Attorney’s Office yet, because this just happened today. Maybe they are planning to appeal. However, if that is not the case, my office has already asked City Council Central Staff to prepare legislation to correct any legal challenge, preferably by removing the means testing from this law."

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