Ramifications Of Seattle’s COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium
Posted May 19, 2020
By Washington State Litgation Lawyer Andrew M. McKenzie
Seattle has long had a reputation for tenant-friendly regulations. In the wake of COVID-19, starting in March 2020, Seattle took several actions culminating in a lengthy moratorium on certain evictions. On May 6, 2020, Mayor Durkan signed into law a bill unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council (full text here: https://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4427723&GUID=0651D7FC-E708-40E6-8AFA-090008E8C4A4&FullText=1), known as Ordinance 126075, which extends eviction protections to tenants long past the statewide eviction moratorium’s current expiration date of June 4, 2020. Under Ordinance 126075, a tenant in Seattle has a defense to an unlawful detainer action (eviction) until 6 months after the Mayor’s eviction moratorium ends, if the tenant: (1) can show that the basis of the landlord’s eviction proceeding is one of the enumerated bases in the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance that is related to failure to pay rent; and (2) submits “a declaration or self-certification asserting the tenant has suffered a financial hardship and is therefore unable to pay rent.”
To complicate matters more for landlords, Ordinance 126075 as it currently stands may, when combined with Seattle’s existing defense to winter-based residential evictions, have the net effect of preventing certain landlords from evicting tenants all the way through March 1, 2021! Setting aside for purposes of this blog post the issue of whether such a law might be subject to a constitutional challenge, landlords facing the prospect of a huge chunk of potentially uncollectible unpaid rent must decide how best to mitigate their potential losses. In this environment, a lawsuit against the tenant for breach of contract (rather than merely for unlawful detainer) may make much more economic sense than under normal circumstances. This strategy can have the potential advantages of: (1) impressing upon the tenant the seriousness of the failure to pay rent; (2) obtaining a judgment for unpaid rent sooner rather than later, while the prospects of collection have not faded as much with the tenant’s deteriorating financial condition; and (3) providing a forum for legally investigating the tenant’s financial circumstances to determine the legitimacy of the tenant’s financial hardship claim. The lawyers at Beresford Booth have a wealth of experience representing property owners and business clients in litigation, including breach of contract claims, and counseling their clients on strategies best tailored to meet their needs and minimize risks.
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