WA is the first to guarantee the right to a lawyer in eviction cases / Public Information Service

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At least 11 states have introduced legislation guaranteeing tenants the right to legal assistance in the event of an eviction. (pixelrobot / Adobe Stock)

By Eric Tegethoff – Producer, Contact

June 28, 2021

SEATTLE – As threats of evictions increase as the pandemic abates, Washington state has taken a major step this year to protect tenants.

In the 2021 session, state lawmakers passed a measure guaranteeing tenants the right to a lawyer in the event of an eviction. It was the first state in the nation to pass such a bill.

John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for A Civil Right to Counsel, called him a transformative.

“The movement has been very successful over the past five years at the municipal level,” Pollock said. “But Washington State was the first to show that it could also be done at the state level.”

Pollock said Connecticut and Maryland joined Washington shortly after the bill was passed and notes that at least 11 states have introduced similar legislation, signaling how common this issue has become.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the state will extend the moratorium on evictions beyond Wednesday.

Pollock said only about 3% of tenants were represented by a lawyer in eviction cases. He also noted that for the person who might be evicted, there is a lot more at stake than their homes.

“Child care, child care, your physical freedom, your health, your job and so on,” Pollock said. “The advice makes a huge difference from the studies we’ve seen. It literally changes what happens in the housing court and the vast majority of tenants avoid eviction or serious consequences.”

Pollock said it can be difficult for people to rent once they have an eviction on their record. He also noted that this was a significant racial equity issue, with black women facing deportation rates at least twice as high as whites.

“In a country where we are fighting with racial equity and looking at what it looks like or what it should be like,” Pollock said, “we cannot ignore the situation and the situation in our housing courts, which are a reflection of the lack of that kind of fairness. “

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