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Sunday, October 2, 2022

County Council Passes New Protections For Renters During COVID-19 Crisis

Councilmembers: (seated, from left) Council Vice Chair 
Joe McDermott (District 8), Council Chair Claudia Balducci 
(District 6), Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn (District 9),
and Kathy Lambert (District 3); (standing, from left)
 Jeanne Kohl-Welles (District 4), Rod Dembowski (District 1),
Girmay Zahilay (District 1), Dave Upthegrove (District 5),
and Pete von Reichbauer (District 7)

On Tues., The King County Council passed new legislation protecting tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. The ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Claudia Balducci, Girmay Zahilay, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, extends protections to residential tenants, including manufactured homeowners, and small commercial tenants in unincorporated King County.

When Washington closed all non-essential businesses in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, many King County residents suddenly found themselves without a job. King County residents filed over 398,000 new unemployment claims between March 1 and June 13. While Gov. Jay Inslee signed an eviction moratorium to prevent immediate loss of housing, tenants and advocates have expressed fear of a wave of evictions when the moratorium ends.

“While the governor’s moratorium headed off an imminent avalanche of evictions, we are still at risk of hundreds or thousands of families losing their homes once the moratorium ends,” Balducci said. “The intention of this ordinance is to give people impacted by COVID-19 an opportunity to catch up on rent and stay in their homes. Along with the additional funding for direct rental assistance we passed today, this measure will help keep families from sliding into homelessness due to forces beyond their control.”

Modeled on similar legislation already passed in the city of Seattle, the ordinance provides residential tenants with a defense to eviction if an unlawful detainer (eviction) action is based on the tenant’s failure to pay rent, if the nonpayment was because of circumstances occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The defense to eviction will be available to residential tenants if the eviction was initiated because of unpaid rent that was due before or by March 1, 2021.  The second protection allows a residential or small commercial tenant who fails to pay rent due before or by March 1, 2021 to pay the overdue rent on a reasonable repayment plan if the nonpayment was because of circumstances occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides an additional defense to eviction if a landlord does not offer a reasonable repayment plan. “This ordinance centers on the principle that housing is a human right and as such it’s an important measure in protecting that right” Kohl-Welles said. “This legislation is critical in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic with many of our residents not having adequate resources to pay their rent. However, we have many more steps to take to ensure King County residents have accessible, affordable and stable housing. I look forward to continuing this important work with my colleagues and community partners that have been advocating and organizing on these issues long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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