Councilmember Tammy J. Morales, alongside her Council colleagues, passed two pieces of legislation sponsored by Morales that protect renters from pandemic-related eviction, and no-fault evictions associated with end-of-lease terminations.
“These two bills lay the groundwork for us to create more and better opportunities to democratize wealth, to combat gentrification, and to reverse displacement in our communities,” said Morales. “This is important in a system that is inherently beneficial to one party over another. Tenants spend their lives accumulating wealth for someone else. They spend their lives constantly reminded that their home ‘isn’t actually theirs.’ These bills seek to balance that relationship and to affirm that tenants’ homes are, in fact, theirs.”
The City Council passed Council Bill 120090, by a 5-2 vote, which addresses end-of-lease no-cause terminations by offering tenants a right of first refusal to stay or leave their home when their lease is up. Previously, some landlords were able to evict tenants from their homes at the end of a lease through a no fault, no cause removal. The legislation, which was jointly sponsored by Councilmember Sawant and co-sponsored by Councilmember Lewis, extends protections afforded under the city’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance to all tenants, expands tenant relocation assistance protections to more renters, and gives tenants more bargaining power in mutual lease terminations.
“For far too long, renters have been left out in the cold at the end of their lease, left to the whims of their landlord as to whether they can stay in their homes, or be forced to leave for no substantial reason. This practice has added stress to several generations of renters, who may be model tenants, but have no guarantee that their home will be their home for as long as they desire,” Morales said. “By closing this longstanding gap in protections, we’re showing renters that we believe the place in which they live isn’t just a temporary set of walls, but rather that it is their home; cultivated by them, cared for by them, and appreciated by them.”
The City Council also passed Council Bill 120077, called “Sound at Home”, by a 5-2 vote. The legislation provides a defense to eviction for any renter who has faced a financial hardship brought on by the pandemic that would have caused them to fall behind on rent. It also ensures that landlords must communicate to tenants that they have the right to assert this defense prior to heading to court. The Sound at Home defense came in response to the nearly 40,000 renters in King County who have faced rent-debt brought on by the pandemic, two-thirds of whom are from Communities of Color. This defense offers protection to tens of thousands of those renters living in Seattle.
“It is glaringly obvious who is impacted most by this crisis,” said Morales. “Two-thirds of people facing pandemic-related debt are People of Color, low income, and have accrued debt after losing their jobs. The impending torrent of evictions has as much to do with equity and a system built on racism and classism, as it does about this public health crisis. That is top of my mind and the Sound at Home defense will be a dam to hold back that deluge that threatens to sweep away tens of thousands of low-income people and People of Color.”
Councilmember Morales introduced these two pieces of legislation, part of her larger Tenants’ Bill of Rights with the support of the Stay Housed Stay Healthy Coalition, which includes tenant rights advocates such as the Housing Justice Project, El Centro de la Raza, Washington CAN, Be:Seattle, WA BLOC, LGBTQ Allyship, Transit Riders Union, Tenant Union of Washington, Real Change, Share the Cities, along with non-profit housing providers Solid Ground and LIHI.