Right to counsel goes a long way toward ‘putting tenants and landlords on equal footing’, gives folks a fighting chance to stay housed and stay healthy
Councilmember Tammy J. Morales (District 2, South Seattle and the CID) issued the following the statement in support of the Right to Counsel legislation and resolution to extend the eviction moratorium through 2021. Both bills are set to be voted on by the City Council at the 2:00 p.m. meeting:
“Unequivocally, all tenants deserve a right to counsel. That shouldn’t be contingent on a public health emergency, income, number of properties owned by their landlord, or any other means testing. Prior to the pandemic, tenants already faced tough odds in eviction court if they didn’t have legal representation. Limited resources were used to help as many tenants as possible find pro bono representation which, for those lucky enough to know about programs like the Housing Justice Project, meant the difference between remaining housed and creating a plan to live out of their car, on a friend’s couch, or in a shelter after being evicted.
“Right to counsel doesn’t just give tenants better odds in court. It also helps tenants and landlords negotiate and come to an understanding rather than an eviction. It is something that needs to be built into the process now to provide aid to countless people in the future.
“Evictions hang over the heads of every tenant. ‘What if I lose my job, or have a medical emergency?’ That worry is in the back of every tenant’s mind, no matter where they live or who they are. That is a fundamental problem with our current system, and it’s why I worked with Councilmember Sawant to create the nation’s first winter eviction ban. It’s why my office fought and won eviction forgiveness for anyone seeking housing after the pandemic who had this misfortune of even just going to court over an eviction. This is why I have supported other measures proposed by Council colleagues. It’s also why I’m proud to co-sponsor right to counsel legislation alongside Councilmember Lewis and Councilmember Sawant.
“As the pandemic has stretched on, so have the worries for many tenants who, once the moratorium is over and the civil emergency is behind us, will be facing a mountain of debt and life on the street. This is why, in the absence of total rent and mortgage cancellation, tenants need a right to counsel when facing eviction. They deserve to be on a level playing ground with their landlord. People fighting for their jobs and for their lives should, at minimum, be able to expect help fighting to keep a roof over their heads.
“Above all, the landlord-tenant relationship is severely lopsided. This system that we work within is not favorable to tenants. However this right to counsel legislation goes a long way toward putting tenants and landlords on equal footing. It gives folks a fighting chance to stay housed and stay healthy. That is why I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation.”