Evictions During COViD-19 – Analysis from the First Year of the Eviction Moratorium
Despite the statewide eviction moratorium, landlords in King County filed 351 unlawful detainers between April 2020 and March 2021. At least 259 households were ultimately evicted.
In the first year of the Washington State eviction moratorium (April 2020 – March 2021), approximately 29 evictions per month were filed in King County. This number only includes formal evictions filed with the King County courts. There were likely also a significant number of “informal evictions” that occurred during the moratorium, which we do not have record of, including illegal lockouts and tenants choosing to self-evict.
Of the 351 filed evictions, 73.8% resulted in the household ultimately being evicted from their home. This means, on average, 22 new households each month found themselves without stable housing, in a time when Washingtonians were mandated to stay home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
53.6% of these filings resulted in a default judgment – either due the tenant not responding to the eviction summons and complaint, not appearing at the hearing, and/or violating a previously entered stipulation. This means that, in over half of the filed eviction cases, the judge or commissioner signed off on the eviction without hearing from the tenant.
Although the eviction moratorium prohibited evictions for nonpayment of rent and for no-cause terminations, there was nothing to prevent a landlord from filing an unlawful detainer for these reasons. In the first year of the moratorium, two no-cause evictions and eight nonpayment of rent evictions were filed - none of which were allowed under the moratorium.
In one of these cases, the landlord changed course after initially filing the unlawful detainer for nonpayment of rent, and served the tenants with a 60-day notice of intent to sell. The tenants were ultimately evicted, despite the initial filing being based on nonpayment of rent, which was prohibited under the moratorium.
Although the moratorium appears to have protected tenants from a physical eviction in the remaining nine nonpayment and no-cause cases, the unlawful detainer filing remains on their record, which can negatively impact their ability to find housing in the future.
The areas with the most eviction filings were also hit hardest by COVID; these areas were predominantly in South King County.
The five cities with the most confirmed COVID cases between April 2020 and March 2021, were Seattle, Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, and Renton. These cities are also in the top six jurisdictions for eviction filings, and would be in the top five if we did not designate areas in Unincorporated King County.
Of the 20 zip codes with most eviction filings in King County, all but five were also in the top 20 for confirmed COVID cases during the first year of the moratorium. The majority of the 15 zip codes that ranked high for both evictions and COVID were in South King County; the five zip codes that ranked high for evictions but not for COVID were in Seattle and East King County.
The top four zip codes for eviction filings are also the fourth, first, third, and sixth most for COVID cases, respectively. These zip codes, most impacted by evictions and COVID, are all in South King County. These areas also have a greater percentage of Black and/or Latinx residents than King County overall. BIPOC tenants, especially Black and Latinx tenants, experience disproportionately high rates of evictions. Similarly, BIPOC communities in King County experienced disproportionately high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
 According to US Census data for King County.
During the moratorium, evictions based on lease violations were allowed only when there was a “significant and immediate risk to the health or safety of others.” This protection did not significantly reduce the number of evictions based on lease violations.
In 2019, there were 176 evictions filed for lease violations. During the moratorium, evictions for lease violations were only meant to occur only when a tenant’s behavior posed a significant and immediate risk to health and safety. Despite this protection in the moratorium, there were still 158 cases filed for this reason – only 18 fewer than 2019, when this protection was not in place.
Many of the cases filed during the moratorium for lease violations do not appear to constitute a significant and immediate risk to health and safety. Numerous tenants faced eviction for violations such as noise complaints, failing to maintain their yard, hoarding, and unauthorized vehicles. Despite the standard set in the moratorium, tenants were evicted 75.9% percent of the time when the landlord filed an unlawful detainer based on a lease violation, which is higher than the overall rate of unlawful detainer filings resulting in eviction.
Unincorporated, North, and East King County ranked higher in number of eviction filings than in 2019.
Unincorporated King County, the areas within the county that fall outside city limits, saw the largest increase in share of eviction filings. In 2019, this jurisdiction ranked number 6 for eviction filings, making up 6.9% of filings in the county. In the first year of the moratorium, Unincorporated King County filed the second highest number of evictions, making up 14.2% of all filings in the county.
In 2019, SeaTac and Des Moines filed the 8th and 10th most evictions, respectively, but fell out of the top 10 in evictions filings in 2020. Replacing them were Shoreline (9th most evictions) and Kirkland (10th most evictions) during the first year of the moratorium. This suggests that, although most evictions have historically been filed in Seattle and in South King County, North and East King County are beginning to see more eviction filings as well.
Furthermore, North and East King County cities are seeing a higher share of their filings ultimately result in an eviction. Throughout the county, 73.8% of unlawful detainer filings ultimately resulted in the household being evicted from their home. Shoreline and Bellevue both had higher than average shares of evictions; in Bellevue, 81.3% of filed unlawful detainers ended in eviction, and in Shoreline, 91.7% of filings ended in eviction.
121 evictions were filed based on the landlord’s intent to sell or occupy – but half of the properties in intent to sell cases have not been listed for sale.
One major exception to the moratorium was that a landlord could start an eviction based on a notice of intent to sell the property, or to occupy the property as their primary residence. In 2019, there were almost no evictions for this reason. However, starting in August 2020, eviction filings for this basis became frequent; overall, they were the second-most frequent basis for eviction during the moratorium.
This exception was first included in the Governor’s proclamation extending the moratorium on June 2, 2020. At the time, the only requirement from the landlord to begin the eviction was “at least 60 days’ written notice of intent to (i) personally occupy the premises as a primary residence, or (ii) sell the property.” In a subsequent proclamation issued on October 14, 2020, this exception to the moratorium was updated to include a signed affidavit from the landlord regarding their intent to sell or occupy the property. Beyond this affidavit, landlords were not required to provide any additional proof of selling or occupying the property after evicting their tenants.
Of the 121 filings based on the owner’s intent to sell or occupy, 93 were specifically based on the owner’s intent to sell. For all intent to sell filings, we checked property listing websites including Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and cross-referenced with the King County Parcel to see if ownership changed. As of July 2021, just under half of the properties in intent to sell cases from the first year of the moratorium have been sold or listed for sale. For the other 49.5% of the properties, we could not find any indication that the properties had been listed for sale. Of those properties, we found six properties being re-listed for rent. This suggests that, while some landlords have used this exception to the moratorium as intended and did sell or attempt to sell their property, an alarming number of landlords appear to have used this exception as a loophole to evict their tenants and not follow through with the sale of their property.
Starting in April 2020 HJP staff began reviewing and documenting all Unlawful Detainer cases filed within King County. The data set used for this analysis covers all eviction filings April 2020 – March 2021, the first year of the Washington State eviction moratorium. HJP staff checked the King County Superior Court New Case List to gather case numbers for all unlawful detainer filings in this time period. Staff then looked up the court records in the King County Department of Judicial Information Electronic Court Records database.
Staff viewed the complaint for unlawful detainer for each case, which details why the eviction was filed. According to the complaint, and additional court records, staff recorded the plaintiff name, tenant name, address, including city and zip codes, and coded the primary and secondary reasons the eviction was filed for each case. The plaintiff name, tenant name and address were recorded in the same manner in which they were listed on the complaint. The cases were coded into the following categories:
- No cause termination/Expired lease - Notice to terminate without any claim of lease violation; 20 day notice to vacate without cause or lease expiration.
- Lease violation/Behavior - 10-day notice to comply or vacate, 3-day notice to quit (waste/nuisance), affidavit of threat to health and safety, Anti-Harassment or Temporary Protection Order, notice to terminate based with reference to lease violations; may include arrests for assault with no notice.
- Mutual termination - Previously signed mutual termination notice
- Nonpayment of rent - 14-day pay or vacate notice
- Unauthorized occupants - Claim of no lease, no color of title, no right to property, possession without permission of owner, unauthorized occupants. May include 3-day notice to quit.
- Owner wishes to sell/occupy - 60 day notice to sell or occupy the premises
- Post-foreclosure – Notice of trustee’s sale
- Other - Other reasons not listed above.
HJP staff then tracked the outcomes for each case. To find case outcomes staff reviewed case judgements, stipulations, orders of dismissal, and sheriff’s return of service. Staff recorded if a tenant defaulted in their case and at what point they defaulted. Defaults were categorized by the tenant either failing to respond to the eviction summons, failing to appear at the show cause hearing, or failing to comply with all the requirements of a stipulation.
Eviction outcomes were coded into the following categories.
- Evicted – Judgment ordering writ and sheriff’s return of service specifies that tenant was evicted (either physically evicted or tenant left premises), stipulation/agreed order (with move-out date)
- Remained housed – Stipulation (no move out date), order to quash writ and reinstate tenancy, order of dismissal or denial writ by court, agreed order to dismiss, motion for voluntary dismissal from plaintiff (with accompanying information as to why there is a dismissal)
- Tenant vacated before judgment – Documents indicate that the tenant vacated before the hearing/before judgment entered
- Unclear – Other documents that do not fit into these categories, writ expired or not served with no move-out date from judgment/order/stipulation, order of dismissal without information as to why
HJP Staff compiled data on the location of COVID-19 cases in King County by accessing the King County Daily COVID-19 Outbreak Summary Dashboard. Staff downloaded the daily counts by zip and city files and compiled the confirmed positive totals for each zip code and city location for April 2020 – March 2021. The locations of COVID-19 cases were then compared to the locations of evictions filed during the same time period. HJP Staff reviewed eviction filings that were brought by the landlord’s intention to sell the property. Staff checked property listing websites including Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and cross-referenced with the King County Parcel Viewer to see if ownership changed.
The US Census Bureau Quickfacts website was used to find demographic and housing information for King County as a whole and individual cities within the county. HJP Staff used the compiled moratorium eviction data, the King County US Census Bureau Quickfacts data and the King County COVID-19 Dashboards to create the visuals above.