All about Washington State's groundbreaking eviction right to counsel

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07/28/2022, Legislation, Housing - Evictions

UPDATE: first annual RTC report released

 

The Office of Civil Legal Aid released the first annual report to the Washington State Legislature documenting implementation of the State's right to counsel for indigent tenants in eviction cases. Here are some highlighted findings:

 

  • "Since commencing operations in October 2021, RTC attorneys have been appointed for all tenants screened and found eligible for appointed counsel in every case in every judicial district in the state." (An important caveat made in the report is that not every tenant is yet aware of the right to counsel).
 
  • Court-appointed attorneys represented close to 3000 tenants between January 1 and May 30, 2022.
 
  • Tenants remained in their homes in more than 50% of closed cases where the result is known. In the other cases where a different outcome is known tenant attorneys have helped expand tenant time to move, obtained orders of dissmissal and limited dissemination, provided relief from future back-due rent claims, and helped achieve "other outcomes that significantly benefit the tenant and reduce the long-term negative impact on their ability to find rental housing."
 
  • Court processes are  changing, as "...courts are routinely informing tenants of their rights to appointed counsel, providing them time to be screened for eligibility, appointing attorneys for indigent tenants, and respecting the new and enhanced role of tenant defendants’ court-appointed attorneys."

 

UPDATE: statewide right to counsel goes live!

 

The Seattle Times and KGW News recently reported on the rollout of the Washington State eviction right to counsel program.

 

UPDATE: statewide implementation plans released

 

Washington State’s Office of Civil Legal Aid has publicly released the implementation plan for the newly-enacted statewide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.  Other reports related to implementation can be found on the OCLA website.

 

Background

 

In April 2021, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5160, which makes the state the first to guarantee counsel for indigent tenants in eviction cases.  It specifies that "Subject to the availability of amounts appropriated for this specific purpose, the court must appoint an attorney for an indigent tenant in an unlawful detainer proceeding under this chapter and chapters 59.12 and 59.20 RCW."   The bill has a flexible definition of "indigent" and routes the funds through the Office of Civil Legal Aid.


The passage of the bill was covered by the Seattle Times, Oregon Public BroadcastingThe OlympianBusiness Insider, and ABA Journal

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: no

 

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The NCCRC provided support and input on the bill.