Washington Guarantees Low-Income Tenants the Right to Counsel in Evictions

Washington is the first state to give low-income tenants the right to a free lawyer in eviction proceedings.

On April 22, 2021, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill giving low-income tenants in Washington the right to have a court-appointed attorney represent them free of charge in an eviction lawsuit. Although a few cities across the country, such as San Francisco and New York, have some form of right-to-counsel laws, Washington is the first state to enact such a law.

To qualify for a state-appointed attorney in a Washington eviction case, the tenant must be receiving public assistance or have an annual income (after taxes) of 200% or less of the current federally established poverty level. The Washington Office of Civil Legal Aid is responsible for administering the new program.

According to The Justice Collaborative Institute, approximately 90% of tenants facing eviction do not have lawyers—but up to 90% of landlords do. Because of the inequity of representation in housing court, a growing number of cities and states are considering passing right-to-counsel laws. For more information on the national civil-right-to-counsel movement, including a map showing areas where tenants have a right to counsel in eviction lawsuits, check out the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel's website.

Effective Date: April 22, 2021