Eviction Delays Worsen Forcing Tough Decisions for Housing Providers

Posted By: Tim Hatley Government,

While RHAWA was successful in defeating several anti-housing providers bills this session, we were stymied in our efforts in seeking needed reforms to the eviction process which has led to delays as long as a year for the resolution of an eviction case.

Take the case of Jason “Van Guy” Roth, and his yearlong effort to evict a tenant who hadn’t paid rent for 10 months, illegally rented out a portion of the rental unit as an Airbnb, and forced Jason to live in his van.

Jason’s story - which has been featured by numerous local and national media outlets - including CURRENT - highlights the effectiveness of the taxpayer-funded Housing Justice Project which provides free legal services for almost any tenant facing an eviction and seeks to delay the process.

Jason’s plight is not unfamiliar to many housing providers.  

After months of unpaid rent, Jason retained an attorney to begin the eviction process in the spring of 2023 by filing for a court date – or a show cause hearing – which the King County Superior Court did not schedule until October 23, 2023 – five months after the schedule request.  Pursuant to state law, these hearings are to be held within 30 days.  So, on October 23, with the attorney he is personally paying in tow – along with Jesse Jones from KIRO 7 TV – Jason showed up to his hearing hoping to resolve the matter.

What happened stunned Jason.

The tenant also attended and had his attorney in tow as well – a taxpayer-funded attorney from the Housing Justice Project who without reviewing any paperwork, simply asked the court commissioner for a continuance which was granted and then scheduled the new hearing for March 12, 2024 – nearly five months later.

This is how it works in King County Superior Court to the bafflement of housing provider attorneys and the delight of the Housing Justice Project.

King County Housing Justice Project receives $4.6 million a year from the state and another $500,000 more from King County to pay its 32 lawyers and support staff, according to public reports.

According to King County Superior Court, there were 4,500 unlawful detainers, better known as evictions, filed in 2023 which is at or below pre-pandemic levels, which at that time was at an all-time low.

Before the pandemic, it typically took about two weeks to schedule an initial hearing in King County. Today it takes six months.

Today in Snohomish, Kitsap, Thurston, and Pierce Counties it still takes about two weeks.

So why the difference in King County?  If the amount of eviction filings is roughly the same as pre-pandemic and they took only two weeks to schedule then - but now six months, yet other nearby counties still can manage their caseload in two weeks or so, what’s going on?

According to published reports and a November 13, 2023, memo from Philippe A. Knab, Eviction Defense Program Manager with the Washington State Office of Civil and Legal Aid, groups like the Housing Justice Project have been asking the courts to slow down the hearing process. “Courts have been respectful and, in most cases, responsive to our requests for additional time to “catch up”, Mr. Knab wrote to November 13, 2023 explaining the delays.

In other words, judge – please slow down the process as much as possible so the tenant can stay where they are rent-free for as long as possible.

But what about the housing provider?  How do they “catch up” with a tenant who hasn’t paid rent for nearly a year and must wait another six months to maybe have their day in court?

Ask Jason Roth who after waiting nearly a year for a court date couldn’t take it any longer. “I was tired of living in my van. I wanted my house back so I told him if he left before my next court date I wouldn’t move forward with the eviction, and he wouldn’t have to pay what he owed.”

Some say that sounds like extortion.  Most would say it’s unfair. Jason would say “Thank goodness its finally over and I can go home – I don’t know if I want to be a rental housing provider ever again in King County.”