Right to Counsel (Attorney) for Evictions

Right to Legal Representation for Low Income Tenants Facing Eviction

In 2021, tenants and advocates achieved an important and historical win for people facing eviction - Washington State legislature passed Senate Bill 5160 creating a right to legal representation (Right to Counsel or “RTC”) for residential tenants in unlawful detainer (eviction) proceedings throughout the entire state of Washington (RCW 59.18.640). Now, the superior courts “must appoint counsel for an indigent (low income) tenant in an unlawful detainer proceeding” RCW 59.18.640(1).

This law ensures tenants that need it most have access to legal advice and representation in eviction cases by appointing counsel. The goal of this new tenant protection is to alleviate barriers to maintaining housing for renters. Recently, there have been some updates have been put in place to reinforce a low-income tenant’s right to have legal representation such as:

  1. If an eligible tenant does not have counsel, the eviction proceeding would have to be delayed

  2. The court must advise an eligible (“indigent”) tenant of their right to an attorney and refer the tenant for appointment of counsel which includes a continuance for reasonable time for the tenant to obtain and prepare with counsel

Tenants who receive an Eviction Summons and Complaint should call the statewide Eviction Defense Screening line at 1-855-657-8387 or apply online at nwjustice.org/apply-online to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer in an eviction case.

Reminder that if your eviction hearing date and time arrive and you have not yet been given a free lawyer, you should go to the hearing and ask the judge for more time to get a free lawyer. The judge may be required to postpone the hearing to give you time to call our Eviction Defense Screening line.

Additional Resources and Information

Tenants Union Tenant Counselors are not attorneys, and this information should not be considered legal advice. Please read our full Tenant Union Disclaimer.