Seattle officials are considering banning winter evictions. Could this state bill block it?

Seattle officials are considering banning winter evictions. Could this state bill block it?

Eviction notice in the post

Eviction notice in the post

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Seattle officials are considering a proposal to ban evictions during the winter to prevent people from ending up on the streets during the coldest months of the year. But a state bill could block that measure.

The state legislation sponsored by state Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, would prohibit the enforcement of ordinances locally that ban evictions during any point in the year.

"A city or town of any class may not enact, maintain, or enforce ordinances or other provisions that prohibit for any period of time any evictions of tenants by landlords in single-family or multifamily residential rental units or manufactured/mobile home communities," the bill reads.

Fortunato said during a public hearing in the state Senate Committee on Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade this week that the Seattle proposal could have detrimental impacts on landlords.

"The city of Seattle's current proposal to have people not pay rent for six months, five or six months during the winter, I have no idea how a landlord would be able to pay their mortgages, pay their taxes," he said. "This would result in people living free for five or six months, and then simply move out in the spring and sticking the landlord with the resulting costs. So, the bill simply says we're going to do a state preemption on evictions.

Others warned during the public hearing people could take advantage of a ban on winter evictions.

Chester Baldwin, from the Washington Landlord Association, said a ban on winter evictions would ultimately just lead to less affordable housing and fewer landlords.

"Seattle regulations like the winter eviction ban sound like a good idea for a cause that we all care very much about," he said during the hearing. "But, landlords are not banks and we can't be asked to make up for the failings of local governments."

RELATED: Councilmember Kshama Sawant proposes ban on evictions in Seattle during the winter

He said landlords and private housing providers are leaving the market at record paces because of the regulation and costs. And those will cost cities housing, he said. Baldwin said there is very little housing stock and extremely low vacancy rates, especially in King County. But adding costs and regulations to housing will result in higher housing costs.

The bill comes after Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant late last year proposed banning evictions during the winter months. Proponents of the idea have argued it could save lives by preventing people from ending up living on the streets in the winter.

The Seattle proposal would ban evictions from the beginning of November to the end of March, with a few exceptions.

During a council meeting in December, Sawant cited statistics about the number of people experiencing homelessness who die each year from effects of hypothermia when talking about why it was necessary to pass such an ordinance.

"We see why this is so important," she said in December. "We've seen the crisis in our city and region itself."

Several other people in December spoke of their own experiences being evicted and experiencing homelessness, and shared how important a ban on winter evictions could be in Seattle.

Sawant's proposal came after the Seattle Renter's Commission sent a letter to the council last year asking for an emergency moratorium on evictions during the winter.

RELATED: Renters could have more protections under series of King County proposals

“Passing such a moratorium will keep neighbors from being displaced to the streets during the months with the harshest weather and poorest living conditions for neighbors living unsheltered,” the Renters' Commission said in its letter. “These commonsense measures can save lives and treats this emergency with the severity that it merits.”

Over the past several years, there has been an increasing number of homeless people who have died on the streets in King County. In 2018, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office reported it investigated 194 deaths of people who were presumed homeless. In 2017, 169 people presumed homeless died. The majority of the deaths that were investigated were from natural causes. 
The proposal to ban winter evictions will be discussed Monday at the Seattle City Council meeting. 

report released last year by the Seattle Women's Commission and the Housing Justice Project of the King County Bar Association found the vast majority of the eviction filings analyzed in Seattle were due to people not paying rent. Of those, more than half were for just one month or less in rent. The report also found that most respondents who were evicted became homeless.

Seattle and King County official have been working over the past several months to find ways to prevent people from becoming homeless, move more people off of the street and into permanent housing and build more affordable housing in the region. State officials have also proposed a bill that would let King County impose a payroll tax on big businesses with highly paid employees to address homelessness and affordable housing.