Nearly two months ago the council voted to end the eviction moratorium, and since then they’ve done nothing to help prevent what could become a landslide of evictions. But on Tuesday an unlikely champion for renters broke that dismal streak by introducing a bill to ease the burden of repayment plans.
Councilmember Dan Strauss presented the ordinance to the Sustainability and Renter’s Rights Committee, following up on a promise to bring forth new renter protections after his ‘no’ vote on Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s late-February resolution to extend the eviction moratorium. Though he said his staff started working on this bill right after that vote, it only recently became presentable.
Strauss’s new bill would adjust an earlier city ordinance around repayment plan rules to align with state policy. The council’s previous law required landlords to negotiate six-month repayment plans with tenants, but Strauss thinks renters might need a little more time to get back on track. So now he wants to define a “reasonable repayment plan” as one where tenants can pay back rent in monthly installments that do not exceed one-third of their monthly rent for debt incurred during the city’s COVID-19 civil emergency and up to six months after the end of the civil emergency.
In the committee meeting on Friday, central staff gave a one-slide presentation on the measure, and then the three present members voted to approve it without comment. The ordinance will go before the full council next Tuesday for a vote.
All of the council’s COVID-19 eviction protections come with the same caveat: A judge is the only enforcement mechanism, so renters need to go to court to access the help. According to the Housing Justice Project, these court protections have a limited utility because many tenants simply surrender after seeing eviction notices; they don’t know how to or don’t have enough time to fight them.
The fact that some landlords and tenants have already agreed on a repayment plan presents another practical issue. According to central staff, if that plan does not comply with the new rules, then tenants could use Strauss’s proposal as a defense in court. However, it is up to tenants and landlords to change plans if they don’t end up going to court.
By Strauss’s own admission, the bill is a modest fix. Nothing revolutionary. But so far, this modest fix is the only new protection the council has offered tenants since the moratorium ended, which advocates warned would bring a surge of homelessness.
Strauss is not exactly known for advocating for renters. He said he mostly stays in his lane: land use and transportation. Sawant and Councilmember Tammy Morales proved themselves as the biggest advocates for renters on the council throughout the pandemic, but they have yet to propose anything new to stave off eviction for renters after the failure of Sawant’s last-ditch effort to save the moratorium. In fact, the Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee only met for two of its four meetings scheduled since that vote.
“I try to focus on common sense and reasonable things that are important for the city, and this falls within that intersection. Why am I the first [to propose renter’s protections post-moratorium]? I don't know. Because I was paying attention?” Strauss said.
Sawant’s been busy. She’s missed three of the six meetings since the ‘no’ vote on her eviction moratorium extension, and she has not tweeted about the end of the moratorium on her council member account since the day before the vote. Instead, Starbucks unionization dominates her feed, along with a few calls to fill out a Google Form for input on a policy attempting to create better enforcement mechanisms for landlords violating tenants rights. I wrote to her office to see if she has anything cooking and I will update if she responds.