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Seattle provides new resource to small businesses struggling with rent

Murals and paintings from local artists cover the side of businesses and restaurants in Seattle closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Meili Cady/KIRO Radio)

How the rent will get paid is a question on the minds of many mom-and-pop entrepreneurs as small businesses prepare to reopen after months of little to no income.

While the state and the city of Seattle placed moratoriums on evictions due to non-payment during the crisis, these moratoriums are set to expire June 4. The moratoriums did not erase the rent that was due, but simply stopped landlords from kicking out tenants who didn’t pay; after their expiration, back rent is still due to every landlord.

To help out Seattle’s shop, salon, and restaurant owners, the city’s Office of Economic Development has put together a toolkit for small businesses struggling with rent during the pandemic. The toolkit includes resources such as templates to help business owners write letters to their landlords, a webinar, and a summary of the state and city eviction moratoriums.

“Clear communication is so important right now when everyone is working to figure out next steps … and so the goal of this is to help provide clarity between tenants and landlords so that folks can be on the same page as they’re moving forward,” said Jennifer Tam, the Office of Economic Development’s food business advocate.

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The smallest businesses — those with 50 or fewer employees — can also get a free 60-minute legal consultation with an attorney to talk about any landlord or tenant questions.

The city partnered with nonprofit Communities Rise and law firm Perkins Coie on this effort.

Tam said the letter templates should be especially helpful to business owners trying to understand the legal language of their lease, or wondering how to bring up a difficult topic with a landlord, such as asking to have a payment plan.

“It gives a sense to folks of how you might approach an option, or how you might approach your options, or how you might approach the language you use when you’re communicating with your landlord, and also just being able to provide clarity,” Tam said.

This is not the only way Seattle is lending a hand to small businesses. The city has also deferred business taxes and utilities payments, given advice and assistance in their preferred language to business owners applying for federal aid, and provided up to $10,000 in city grants for hundreds of small businesses.

“The mayor really believes that small businesses are the backbone of Seattle’s economy,” said Kelsey Nyland, a member of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s communications team. “They provide over 200,000 jobs, and they’re really integral to the cultural and civic life of our city.”

For more information, visit communities-rise.org.

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