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Seattle Extends Eviction Moratorium for Small Businesses Through March

The order also re-ups measures such as temporary loading zones for restaurants

A view of the Seattle skyline on a partly cloudy day with the top of the Space Needle visible
Seattle rents have skyrocketed in recent years, and caused a problem for restaurants even before the pandemic.

On Wednesday, December 16, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an order officially extending a moratorium on evictions for residents, small businesses, and nonprofits through March 31, 2021 (it was due to expire at the end of 2020). The mandate also extends a couple of other pandemic-related measures that could impact restaurants and bars: allowing temporary loading zones for pick-ups and the suspension of 72-hour parking rules enforcement until further notice. Durkan’s original order dates all the way back to this past March, so the extended order will ultimately have at least a year-long cycle.

While the eviction moratorium is in effect, landlords cannot kick any resident or small business out while a lease is still active, unless there’s an immediate health and safety threat to the community, nor can they implement late fees, interest, or other punitive charges for non-payment of rent. However, as before, the citywide decree does not release any resident or small business owner from rent obligations. It simply encourages tenants and landlords to try to come up with payment plans and agreements.

Avoiding a worst-case scenario for tenants is good news, but more comprehensive rent relief and rent forgiveness policy has been elusive on the local level. Some restaurants have been able to work out agreements with landlords on rent over the past nine months (allowing several to close down temporarily during current indoor dining restrictions), while others simply do not have the resources to do so. It also doesn’t help that, before the pandemic, rents in the Seattle area had skyrocketed, so restaurants may be locked into unaffordable leases for the foreseeable future — though at least some rent prices in the area have shown some signs of dropping in 2020.

As a recent survey from the Washington Hospitality Association found, more than 600 restaurants in Seattle have closed permanently during the first six months of the pandemic, and that could just be a snapshot of the full damage done so far. With Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest restrictions extended through January 4, along with uncertainty over a federal relief package, Seattle can expect more closures to come, even with the extension of the city’s pandemic measures.