Thousands left in limbo as King County eviction cases pile up

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SEATTLE - King County is grappling with a significant backlog of eviction cases, leaving thousands of landlords and tenants without resolution for months. Judges, attorneys, and local leaders all acknowledge the problem but disagree on the solution.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, eviction proceedings typically concluded within six to seven weeks if a tenant failed to make payment. In stark contrast, an "unlawful detainer" case filed today won’t be heard until 2025.

"There's a pretty enormous backlog," said Edmund Witter from the King County Bar’s Pro Bono Services. "If you're a landlord trying to evict someone, it could take months to get a hearing date. That's the big issue."

The last year has been particularly bad, and the statistics bear that out," King County Councilman Reagan Dunn said.

An estimated 2,200 to 6,500 cases remain unresolved, with approximately 600 new eviction requests each month.

Experts report the backlog is largely attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Why we're seeing a lot of evictions right now is that there was a decent safety net over the last couple of years due to COVID," Witter explained. Judges told FOX 13 Seattle the expiration of eviction moratoriums and the depletion of federal aid created a perfect storm.

Witter argues another factor is in play. He currently has a list of 1,500 renters needing representation, but his office lacks the resources to provide legal aid to all.

"We see tenants with $2,000 to $3,000 rent increases," Witter said. "The cost of living is too high, and people cannot afford housing. They're getting crushed underneath it, and that's why we're seeing record numbers of evictions."

Dunn argues that the situation is exacerbated by people exploiting the system.

"There are serial squatters who know the rules and don't care," he said. "They've found ways to stay in their units longer because of new legal protections."

Despite agreeing on the problem, Dunn and Witter have different views on the solution. Dunn recently proposed spending over $1.3 million to increase the number of staff and court commissioners to speed up the process.

"We can't do any of that if there aren't enough bodies to process these cases," Dunn said.

"This does not address the actual issue of why people are being evicted in record numbers. He's just saying we need to speed up making people homeless faster," said Witter.

The King County Council has until July to decide on Dunn's proposal.

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