FILE — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

(The Center Square) – Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has extended the city’s moratorium on evictions through Jan. 15 of next year.

This is the sixth time Durkan has extended the moratorium since putting it in place in March of 2020. The last time was in June and was set to expire at the end of the month.

The moratorium issued via executive order on Tuesday applies to residential, non-profit and small business tenants, with small businesses defined as fewer than 50 employees. Seattle is also requiring landlords to set up payment plans, as tenants are still legally obligated to pay the back rent.

“This next extension will ensure every level of government can provide rental assistance and housing support to tenants and landlords, which is critical to stabilizing the community as we reopen and recover,” Durkan said in a press release.

A joint statement from the Rental Housing Association of Washington and the Multifamily Housing Association of Washington, however, said Seattle’s housing crisis is of its own making and the city has no idea how to move forward.

“It’s no longer even about COVID as businesses are open and hiring,” the statement said. “The forever eviction bans are racking up debt for residents, increasing violent incidents on properties and driving single-family rentals off the market. They have all the funds and programs in place to address rental debt but instead are requiring housing providers to take on even more of their tenants’ housing costs.”

The Census Bureau’s ongoing Household Pulse Survey found that as of mid-August about 60,000 renters in the Seattle area were behind on their rent. That is down from 150,000 earlier this year, primarily due to million of dollars paid out in federal rent assistance.

Seattle has distributed about $15 million in rent assistance since June and is in the process of handing out an additional $28 million.

King County has given out about $34 million of the $145 million it received for rent assistance. To qualify, a person must make less than 50% annually of the area’s median income, or $40,500 for an individual.

Earlier this month, a group of Seattle landlords sued Durkan and Gov. Jay Inslee. A statewide moratorium on evictions is in place through Oct. 15.

The lawsuit questions the constitutionality of the moratoriums as private property owners have been forced to allow tenants to live rent-free for 18 months.

The Seattle City Council in May also approved an ordinance that will protect tenants from eviction for six months whenever the final moratorium ends.

The ordinance amends a city law that lays out the conditions under which landlords can evict tenants. The law now says tenants will have a “defense in court” if an eviction is based on failure to pay rent for six months after the moratoriums expire.

It says a landlord “may not evict a residential tenant” who cites the law in court. Tenants will continue to accrue debt during those six months and must certify that they have suffered financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Evictions over matters such as nuisances, destruction or other lease violations can still proceed.