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Councilmember Morales, Community Call for Close to ‘Lease Termination Loophole’

Protection for all tenants under ‘Just Cause’ Eviction Ordinance will help all renters in post-pandemic rental market

Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2, South Seattle and the CID), together with Community representatives, announced the first piece in a series of Tenants’ Bill of Rights legislation today at the Plaza Roberto Maestas on Beacon Hill.

Morales’ legislation is intended to fix a weakness in the City’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance that has, for the last forty years, allowed tenants to be forced from their homes without cause. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants have faced hardship and instability. This legislation aims to ensure that tenants are not removed from their homes without cause following the end of the eviction moratorium, or at any other time in the future.

Councilmember Morales was joined by tenants and advocates, including from El Centro de la Raza and the Housing Justice Project, all of whom represent the Stay Housed, Stay Healthy coalition with whom Morales developed this legislation. 

“It is alongside these neighbors, advocates, organizers, and organizational leaders that my office is developing a Tenant Bill of Rights this year,” said Morales. “Today, I’m unveiling the first piece of this Tenant Bill of Rights package: a simple fix to our city’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance that will ensure all tenants, regardless where they are in their lease term, will be protected from the threat of a no fault, no cause removal from their homes.”

Some form of just cause eviction protections have existed in Seattle since the 1980’s. Those protections provide a set list of situations in which a tenant can face eviction and they have been integral to keeping thousands of neighbors housed over the past four decades. “However, even as this set of protections has continued to be strengthened, we’ve left one avenue open for tenants to be forced from their homes, at no fault of their own,” Morales added. “That gap in protection allows landlords to refuse to continue a rental relationship without having to provide a reason. This is a situation that simply doesn’t match the rest of our City’s stance on tenant rights.”

“Every single tenant protection, including the original Just Cause Eviction Ordinance from 1980, has been won through tenant organizing and struggle” said Violet Lavatai, Executive Director of the Tenants Union of Washington – a member of the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition. “Our community has been working for decades to fix the end-of-lease termination loophole, so we appreciate that Councilmember Morales is developing this and other pieces of her Tenant Bill of Rights with community from start to finish. Together this housing justice coalition feels that the time is right to fix this and strengthen eviction protections overall.” 

“Our housing market is brutal, Disenfranchised people are often the victims of that brutality. As someone on disability without the support of a family, I have been a victim of that brutal housing system.” said Arianna Laureano, a Seattle renter. “By closing this loophole and building a Tenant Bill of Rights we are establishing the framework for a system that allows disenfranchised people to stand up for their rights. I couldn’t be happier about that.”

“The consequences in a post-COVID world where we don’t modernize eviction protections will mean that renters will be forced out of their rental units in record numbers,” said Kamali Senior, Director of Organizing for Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE) – another member of the Stay Housed Stay Healthy coalition “This is why we are working with Councilmember Morales developing a Tenant Bill of Rights. We’re starting now by closing this lease termination gap to ensure that hundreds, if not thousands, of people aren’t facing a wave of lease terminations and we’re building this broader bill of rights to ensure that renters, especially BIPOC renters who are at higher risk of displacement now more than ever, experience recovery, not forcible removal in the months and years ahead. We must de-colonize the space of housing altogether, and making sure people can remain in place is a good first step.”

Morales previewed additional legislation which she indicated will be intended to protect people hit hardest economically by the pandemic from facing eviction, and pledged to continue throughout the year to revamp the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance to meet the needs of tenants in 2021 and beyond.

The legislation will be formally introduced and referred to the Sustainability & Renters Rights Committee, of which Councilmember Morales is Vice-Chair. Discussion and a possible vote are anticipated at the May 25th regularly scheduled meeting.

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