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Legal representation for Washington tenants facing eviction poised to become law

The law would guarantee qualifying tenants legal representation in eviction cases.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A "right to counsel" measure that is getting closer to approval by the Legislature would make Washington the first state to ensure that low-income tenants have legal representation when faced with an eviction. 

The bill has passed both the Senate and the House and has one final vote before the Senate before heading to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee. 

The proposed law would provide attorneys to tenants who receive certain public assistance, have been involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility, can't afford a lawyer or who have incomes at 200% or less of the federal poverty level.

The bill also outlines an eviction resolution pilot program that must be used before landlords move forward with eviction cases against tenants. The program would be used to facilitate repayment of rent.

The Seattle City Council passed a similar ordinance in March that guarantees tenants facing eviction the right to free legal council. 

Council Bill 120007 gives tenants facing eviction the right to a lawyer regardless of their ability to pay for one. Although, tenants aren’t required to accept help from an attorney.

Inslee extended the state's eviction moratorium through June 30. The moratorium has been extended several times through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The moratorium bans, with limited exceptions, residential evictions and late fees on unpaid rent. It also requires landlords to offer residents a repayment plan on unpaid rent.