Jason Roth, Seattle’s Own Rambling Man

Posted By: Corey Hjalseth Advocacy, Government, Seattle Laws,

If you have been paying even a little attention to Seattle media over the last two months, you will have heard of Jason Roth, more commonly known as, “Van Guy”. If you aren’t familiar with Jason’s story, he purchased a home in Seattle several years ago and spent a couple of years fixing up that home. He then rented rooms to his friends who needed an affordable place to live. Eventually Jason moved out of his home and rented the entire home out to a single tenant. This tenant was initially found and screened by a property management company Jason had hired. After about a year, the property management company decided they did not want to manage his property anymore, but that he could keep the tenant they had screened and currently had living at his property. After the transition of management Jason came to realize the tenant had not been paying rent to the property management company for some time and the property management company had not disclosed that to Jason.  

Jason set up an initial lease agreement with his tenant and the tenant paid him $1,000. After the initial $1,000, Jason has not received a dime. He decided to take legal action and has been fighting for just about eight months to have his property returned to him. Not only that, but the tenant was also renting out the basement unit as an AirBnB which, according to Jason, was allowed if the other terms of the lease were met. The rent was not being paid so the AirBnB was therefore not allowed. The tenant was showing parties at the house on his Instagram account and seemingly didn’t have a care in the world about not paying his rent. All this as his landlord lives in a van that he retrofitted to be livable while he spends some nights in his van and other nights couch surfing with relatives until he can recover his home.

Jason’s first court appearance was October 23rd, 2023, and to no one’s surprise, the pro bono attorney supplied by the Housing Justice Project, asked for a continuance. The continuance was granted and that now sets the next court date to March 12th. As in five months from now. Roths’ woes with the court system follow a similar troubling trend that many other tenant-landlord attorneys have spoken about with RHA. Eviction cases are supposed to be a high priority and heard first by commissioners within 30 days of the request. That is continually not happening. Cases are not being heard for between three and 5 months. Below I have a rough breakdown of how long a standard non-pay eviction is currently taking in King County court. 

I mentioned the Housing Justice Project in relation to Jason Roth’s case. For those who don’t know, the Housing Justice Project is an organization in King County that helps low-income tenants with landlord-tenant law cases. The trend ringing true from all my conversations with various rental housing providers in the area, is that the Housing Justice Project does not assign an attorney to a case until the last minute. The result of this late assignment leads to an almost automatic continuance which gets rolled to the back of the line for the courts and the schedule is generally three to five months out. These cases are usually heard by Commissioners, not Superior Court Judges and the Commissioners say they are swamped. 

General Current Eviction Timeline in King County for Non-Payment of Rent
•    Initial 14 day pay-or-vacate notice =total days 14
•    Lawsuit filed 7 days later if no response or payment received= Total days 21
•    Personal service of lawsuit, tenant has 7 days to respond= Total days 28
•    File motion for a court date usually 2 or 3 days later= total days 30
•    Court date IF you’re lucky, will be 5-months out= Total days 180 
•    Court date, Housing Justice Project attorney is assigned and asks for continuance. Generally, that is granted. 2nd court date will be another 5 months= Total days 330
•    2nd court date, you win, and you get a judgment and the order for the Sheriff’s department to remove a tenant from the property. This can take an additional 30 days =Total days 360 (Basically a year)
•    This is the FAST version. Many can take longer.

“I think this backlog, to me is an emergency. It should be dealt with accordingly and then maybe move back to commissioners take these cases once they’re caught up,” Roth said in sit down interview with RHA. 

Check out the newest episode of our Podcast, Housing Matters, to hear my discussion with not only Jason Roth, but another rental housing provider in Bellevue and a local tenant-landlord law attorney who has struggled with the extreme backlog of cases in King County. 

Housing Matters can be found on all popular podcast platforms, or you can watch the video version on RHAWA’s YouTube channel.