Morning Fizz

State Supreme Court Issues Year-End Win for Tenants, SDOT Notes Year-End Loss for Driving Alone

Court says tenants have right to demand proof from landlords and SDOT finds significant drop in driving to work alone.

By Josh Feit January 3, 2017

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1. The 2016 new-look council certainly made good on its pro-renter agenda. With both Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold in the house (or in the apartment!), the council passed legislation capping move-in fees, preventing landlords from raising rents when units aren’t up to code, and preventing source of income discrimination against rental applicants.

Appropriately enough, the year ended with another big win for tenants: The Washington State Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in late December with a pro-tenants reading of a 2004 Seattle tenants’ rights law after the King County Superior Court and the Washington State Court of Appeals had ruled for the landlord.

In 2004, the council passed the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance which prevents landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants. One legitimate cause for eviction, though, can be if the landlord wants to use the unit for an immediate family member. However, the JCEO did require that the landlord prove they were truly setting the unit aside for a family member by filing a certified statement with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

As it stood, though, and the two lower courts read the law this way: tenants didn’t have the right to contest the certification; if the landlord simply said they were going to use the housing for a family member than that was that. As Roger Wynn, an attorney in the city attorney’s office, explained to council in September when the city attorney’s office decided to join the case along with the Northwest Justice Project: “A judge … ruled the certificate was all that was required; the tenant could not go to trial to make the landlord prove that just cause.”

Two months later, the state’s supreme court reversed the decision, ruling that JCEO “expressly requires that the tenant have the opportunity to contest the eviction… and that such an opportunity includes contesting the landlord's certification of intent.”

2. And some more good end-of-the year news—at least if you believe cars are destroying the planet. The Seattle Department of Transportation closed out the year, noting a 3.81 percent drop in driving alone since its 2013/2014 findings.

SDOT surveys the 250 biggest companies in Seattle (the companies with more than 100 employees) every year through its commute trip reduction program. SDOT's 2015–16 data put the number of employees who drive alone (the DAR or "Drive Alone Rate") at 33.92 percent; it was at 35.27 percent previously. Overall, the numbers show a decrease in driving alone of more than 10 percent in the last ten years—at 11.25 percent.

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Logically, the data shows that the number of people using transit, biking, or walking at these companies has increased over the same period by 11.16 percent.

The biggest increase came from the addition of people walking to work where there has been a plus 105.68 percentage change. Taking transit jumped 0.78 percent and biking jumped 27.41 percent.

The robust pedestrian stats match the numbers I found back in early October using census and American Community Survey data: Ped commuters increased a stunning 50.2 percent in raw numbers between 2010 and 2015 and now make up 10.7 percent of Seattle’s roughly 410,000 commuters.

3. Finally, in case you missed it during last week's holidays, we published five essays from a batch of electeds who, in our opinion, had standout 2016s.

We asked them to outline their goals for 2017.

Check out these five "Bring on 2017" op-eds from King County Council member Claudia Balducci, Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA, 7), incoming state representative Nicole Macri (D-43, Capitol Hill), and incoming state senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-37, Southeast Seattle).


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