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Tenants facing eviction have right to free lawyer under Seattle ordinance

The new Seattle ordinance aims to keep people in their homes and improve housing stability by boosting a tenant's outcome in eviction court.

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council approved legislation Monday that guarantees tenants facing eviction have access to free legal counsel.

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.

The ordinance aims to decrease the risk of people becoming homeless by improving their outcomes in eviction court. Policy analysts found that tenants with legal counsel fare better in court than tenants without lawyers.

“No longer will renters have to fear going to eviction court without the legal aid that they desperately need and justly deserve,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said in a statement.

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On average, about 1,200 evictions are filed each year, according to a memo from city analysts. The Housing Justice Project, which provides eviction defense services, estimates it would cost about $750,000 annually to provide legal counsel to any tenant facing eviction.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections currently contracts with organizations to offer legal services to tenants but requiring the right to counsel for all tenants facing eviction would mean additional funding.

In 2020, Seattle awarded $218,000 to the Housing Justice Project and $340,000 to the Tenant Law Center to provide legal services to tenants.

Depending on whether Seattle’s eviction moratorium is extended – it’s set to expire June 30 – the city noted additional funds may be needed for 2021.

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