Seattle Eviction Moratorium
February 25, 2022 • Colleen A. Lovejoy
In February 2022, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that the eviction moratorium, which began in March 2020, would end on February 28, 2022. For two years, residential (and some commercial) evictions for nonpayment of rent have been precluded by the eviction moratorium. The moratorium was intended to avoid furthering the homelessness crisis, given the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many people.
Starting March 1, 2022, residential evictions for nonpayment of rent can resume. Even so, the evictions will look a bit different from the pre-pandemic evictions. Protections for tenants have been enacted by the City Mayor and City Council.
Most significantly, tenants have a defense to eviction for six months following the end of the moratorium, if they have a true financial hardship affecting their ability to pay rent. An unlawful detainer action can still be brought against tenants with an inability to pay, but for six more months, the tenant has a defense in the unlawful detainer action and may avoid being evicted. Significantly, notice must be given to the tenant of this defense.
The six-month defense was enacted on May 4, 2020 when the eviction moratorium was set to expire on June 4, 2020. The eviction moratorium has actually been extended seven times in the last two years. One of those seven extensions is Mayor Harrell’s.
Some members of the Seattle City Council tried to block Mayor Harrell ’s lifting of the eviction moratorium, arguing the moratorium should continue as long as the other COVID emergency orders are in place. The City Council, in fact, voted on February 22, 2022 to reject the proposal to extend the moratorium.
Other recent changes to landlord tenant laws include the prohibition of winter evictions for “large” landlords. Landlords renting five or more units are considered “large”. These landlords cannot evict low-income tenants for nonpayment of rent from December 1 to March 1. The winter eviction ban was enacted on February 10, 2020, by a vote of the City Council.
Additionally, King County has enacted the Eviction Resolution Pilot Program (“ERPP”), which requires landlords to submit notice of the intended eviction to the local ERPP dispute center. The program implements mediation services, encourages agreed payment plans, and may provide tenants with legal and rental assistance. Like the six-month defense, this ERPP requirement must be included in the notice to tenants to pay or vacate. The state-wide eviction moratorium ended October 31, 2021, with some cities, like Seattle, choosing to extend the moratorium locally. The ERPP program has been used in other areas of King County since November 2021.
Other restrictions and resources apply to residential evictions. Tenants and landlords should verify the local rules and applicability of those rules and resources to their circumstances when an unlawful detainer action is considered or filed.
It is critical to keep in mind that the moratorium on evictions does not relieve tenants of their rent obligations. It is expected that a record number of evictions will come before the Courts very soon.
A Seattle native, Mrs. Lovejoy earned her Juris Doctorate from Seattle University School of Law and her Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Washington. Mrs. Lovejoy was admitted to the Washington State Bar in December of 2011. She has been an attorney at Schlemlein Fick & Franklin, PLLC since the firm was established in January 2012.