State Senate considering bill that would address looming eviction crisis

Feb 16, 2021

The Washington State Legislature is considering a bill that would requite the state to provide lawyers for indigent tenants in disputes and restrict when a lease can be terminated.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Washington’s Senate Ways and Means Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would put in place more rules dealing with landlords and tenants during the Covid-19 emergency.

Last year, Governor Inslee issued a proclamation that put in place an eviction moratorium to help those facing financial difficulties because of the pandemic.

This bill would take several other steps. It would prohibit landlords from terminating or refusing to renew expiring leases until two years after the health emergency is over. It would also require a court to appoint lawyers for indigent tenants in disputes with the landlord. The legal costs would be paid by the state.

Speaking in opposition was Sharon Galloway.  She operates the Forest Grove Mobile Home Park in Arlington. She said the eviction moratorium has allowed people to play the system.

“I have three personas, who have used this to ride what I call the “covid train,”’ she said. “They never worked, they had drug issues, they're damaging the apartment, and I’m sitting here with my hands tied to prevent further loss of income for my retirement.”

Edward Witter of the King County Bar Association spoke in favor.

“In our program we provide about 90 percent of the eviction representation for tenants in King County, and we are able to keep tenants housed about 56 percent of the time,” Witter said. “The fact we can keep 50 percent of the tenants housed is a sign that a lot of people evicted in the state is because they don't have access to counsel. One study showed that only 8 percent of households facing eviction in Washington have counsel.”

The bill’s sponsors estimate the bill would cost the state about 35-million dollars. Witter said that cost would be offset by the estimated cost to society of dealing with homelessness.