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Judge’s ruling lets state, Seattle eviction moratoriums stand while lawsuit proceeds

A four-story mixed-use building is under construction in 2017, adjacent to an older, single-family home in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
A four-story mixed-use building is under construction in 2017, adjacent to an older, single-family home in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Heidi Groover Seattle Times

A federal judge has rejected an attempt by Seattle landlords to suspend a temporary ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling means the city and state bans can stay in place while the legal fight plays out.

Several landlords represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation sued in September, seeking an injunction to stop the moratoriums. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones denied the request Friday.

Jones concurred with U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Creatura, who wrote last month that the property owners had not shown they would suffer irreparable harm from the eviction bans while the case continues in court.

The city and state have a legitimate interest in stopping evictions as a public health measure, Creatura wrote.

“Certainly, requiring tenants to appear in court to defend against their eviction increases the number of contacts for everyone, including court personnel,” he wrote. “And, of course, there is the general benefit of softening the economic blow that this pandemic is having on everyone by providing stable housing for those who would otherwise be evicted because of the pandemic.”

In addition to state and city moratoriums on evictions, Seattle is requiring landlords to offer payment plans.

For six months after the city moratorium ends, Seattle tenants who experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic will also have a defense in court against eviction.

Tenant advocates have warned about a potential wave of evictions and homelessness when the bans are lifted. More than 11% of households that rent in Washington state have fallen behind on rent payments, according to survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Washington Multifamily Housing Association, a lobbying group for large landlords, says about 15% of rental households did not pay rent in December, according to a survey of its members.

Landlord groups argue the restrictions deprive them of their property rights. Seattle faces a second lawsuit from the Rental Housing Association, a lobbying group for small landlords across the state.

Ethan Blevins, an attorney representing the landlords, said the decision “fails to fully recognize the ongoing injury done to landlords who are going for months without income for mortgage payments and living expenses.”

“Landlords are like any other business suffering through this dire time,” Blevins said in an email.

In his decision, Creatura said landlords had not shown they “face a mass risk of foreclosure similar to the mass risk of eviction that defendants have established through their evidence.”

Creatura wrote that he was “not unsympathetic to the concerns” of landlords. He quoted another judge, who wrote in a similar decision, “The court respectfully implores our lawmakers to treat this calamity with the attention it deserves.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes praised Jones’ decision Friday, saying in a statement that lifting the ban “would have only exacerbated our homelessness crisis.”

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