The Kings County Superior Court in Seattle hears eviction proceedings every day. After a landlord obtains a court order and completes an eviction data form, tenants receive a writ of restitution, or court order. The tenants in question attend a court hearing to present their side of the story. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant is ordered to vacate, and the case is forwarded to law enforcement.
While Kings County’s eviction hearings follow a series of relatively straightforward steps, the process is much more nuanced. Cases can have life-altering consequences for residents, leaving people without a home and impacting Seattle’s already marginalized communities. They can also be costly for landlords, who incur several expenses when they evict tenants. With the right precautions, many of these evictions can be avoided.
Who gets evicted?
“Losing Home: The Human Cost of Eviction in Seattle,” a report created by the King’s County Bar Association and the Seattle Women’s Commission, analyzed 1,218 unlawful detainer cases led against residential households in Seattle in 2017. The data in the report tells a larger story about the type of people who get evicted in Seattle.
According to the report, women were more likely to be evicted over small amounts of money than men. In cases where tenants owed $100 or less, 81% were women.
The report also saw trends in the role of race and ethnicity in evictions, with 51.7% of tenants being people of color, and 31.2% of tenants being black.
These evictions have had far-reaching impacts for residents across Seattle. Of survey respondents, 36.7% experienced stress, 8.3% experienced depression, anxiety or insomnia and 5% developed a heart condition.
Most of Seattle’s evicted residents became homeless.
A high cost to landlords
Landlords also suffer a number of financial costs from evicting tenants. There are several often unforeseen charges associated with evictions, and they can add up quickly. For example, filing a complaint against a tenant can cost between $90 and $400, and service notices cost between $50 and $400, American Tenant Screen reports. Other miscellaneous fees can cost landlords up to $700.
There is also the expense of hiring an attorney. These costs range from a flat fee of $250 to an hourly fee that can add up to $5K if the case goes to trial. Clearing out a tenant’s property after eviction can cost up to $2,500, not including storage fees.
Reaching a solution
While some evictions are warranted due to a lack of cooperation on behalf of the tenant, many can be avoided with proper communication and guidance from landlords.
“It’s clear from the data and surveys that the problem isn’t tenants not wanting to pay rent, it’s tenants having bad luck and not getting the time to catch up,” Margaret Diddams, one of the report’s lead authors, said to the Seattle Times. “Hasty evictions can turn a moment of bad luck, like a health crisis or unexpected cuts in pay or hours at work, into months of homelessness.”
The Kings County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project and Seattle Women’s Commission offer up a number of suggestions to help landlords find alternatives to evicting their tenants. For example, property managers can offer payment plans to help tenants get back up to speed on rent payments.
They can also minimize the risk of eviction by allowing an extra window of time to accept rental payments. Tenants living paycheck to paycheck often fall behind due to sudden circumstances, which can cause a delay in timely rental payments. Additional flexibility on behalf of landlords can give struggling tenants the time they need to pay rent in full.
Many evictions can be prevented by improving the relationship between landlords and their tenants. A number of Seattle’s evictions were filed because tenants did not understand a mutual termination agreement, or had a disability that caused them to misunderstand the agreement. By establishing a greater level of trust between tenants and landlords, many of these challenges can be resolved.