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Case Law Update: Seattle landlord-tenant law

Posted Friday, May 22, 2020 by Christopher L. Thayer

Alternative TextOn May 19, 2020 Seattle Mayor Jennie Durkan signed into law an ordinance previous passed by the City Council which provides additional protections for residential tenants who fallen behind in their rent payments during the Covid-19 emergency.    Under Seattle City Ordinance 126081, tenants who are unable to pay rent during the period of the declared emergency, or for a period of six months thereafter, may elect to pay the delinquent rent pursuant to a payment plan.  The ordinance spells out the terms of payment, which are deemed acceptable. The landlord is precluded from charging late fees or interest on the delinquent amounts. Failure to offer a payment plan is a defense to eviction for failure to pay rent during the relevant period.

This regulation adds yet another layer to the landlord tenant relationship in Seattle.  Seattle tenants who have suffered severe economic impacts from Covid-19 will no doubt rejoice, but small landlords who depend on rental income are likely to bear the brunt of the pain of this new regulation. There is no corresponding state or federal legislation to defer mortgage payments owed by landlords on their properties. No doubt some of Seattle’s recent landlord-tenant regulations, including Ordinance 126081 will come under legal scrutiny and I would anticipate challenges to the enforce-ability of these regulations in the months to come.  Stay tuned.

The text of the relevant portions of the regulation are as follows:

A) A tenant who fails to pay rent when due during, or within six months after the termination of, the civil emergency proclaimed by Mayor Durkan on March 3, 2020, may elect to pay such overdue rent in installments. The tenant shall pay one month or less of overdue rent in three consecutive, equal monthly installments. The tenant shall pay over one month and up to two months of overdue rent in five consecutive, equal monthly payments. The tenant shall pay over two months of overdue rent in six consecutive, equal monthly payments. Any remainder from an uneven division of payments will be part of the last payment. The tenant may propose an alternative payment schedule, which, if the landlord agrees to it, shall be described in writing and signed by the tenant and landlord and deemed an amendment to any existing rental agreement.

B) No late fee, interest, or other charge due to late payment of rent shall accrue during, or within one year after the termination of, the civil emergency proclaimed by Mayor Durkan on March 3, 2020.

C) If a landlord issues a notice to terminate tenancy for nonpayment of rent that was due during, or within six months after the termination of, the civil emergency proclaimed by Mayor Durkan on March 3, 2020, the notice must contain the following statement: “City law entitles you to pay overdue rent in installments.  If your landlord does not accept payment according to the installment schedule, you may raise this as a defense to eviction in court.” It is a defense to eviction if the notice does not contain the required information.

D) An award of attorneys’ fees and statutory court costs to a landlord arising from an eviction proceeding raising defenses authorized by this ordinance is prohibited unless otherwise allowed by law.   E) Failure of the owner to accept payment under the installment schedule provided in subsection 2.A of this ordinance is a defense to eviction. Alternative Text   If you have questions about this ordinance or questions about your options as a residential landlord in the city of Seattle, please do not hesitate to contact managing member, Chris Thayer at (206)805-1494 or CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com