King County councilmember seeks funding to address unlawful detainer case backlog



(The Center Square) – King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn is requesting funding to address an increasing backlog of unlawful detainer cases in King County Superior Court.

According to county data, it can take a property owner six to seven months to get a hearing and up to a year to receive a resolution for unlawful detainer cases. In turn, reports have emerged that tenants involved in these cases are timing motions, the production of new evidence and requests for continuances as a way to strategically further delay court proceedings.

“These prolonged delays cause a significant financial burden to housing providers, who must pay extended legal fees in addition to covering the missed rent and utilities and damages to their properties during the court process,” Dunn said in the letter to King County Council Chair Dave Upthegrove and Vice Chair Girmay Zahilay.

Dunn added that he has had multiple constituents reach out to his office for help because of the severity of the costs. In one case, a young family was indebted nearly $100,000 when they needed to evict squatters from their Maple Valley home.

Dunn is proposing new funding that would align the county with an upcoming state senate bill that is up for a vote next year. The Washington State Senate will consider Senate Bill 6210 during the 2025 legislative session, which would authorize additional court commissioners to process unlawful detainer cases and provide for a statewide grant program to appoint more commissioners.

In Dunn’s letter, he announced his intention to propose $500,000 for five support staff positions within the King County Superior Court in order to assist in sorting cases.

Dunn will also seek to approve $825,000 for three additional court commissioners to increase the capacity to address the number of unlawful detainer cases.

“By earmarking this funding in the 2025 budget, we will prepare our courts for the likely approval of SB 6210 during the state’s January 2025 legislative session so that additional commissioners can be onboarded as soon as possible,” Dunn wrote.

The county dedicated $16 million to the Housing Justice Project as part of its 2023-24 budget. Funds go toward eviction prevention and rental assistance programs. Dunn’s proposed legislation seeks to restrict the funds to be used only for households at or below 200% of the federal poverty levels and are leasing a property with a value less than the King County median home value of $895,000.

Data shared by Dunn’s office with The Center Square showed that the average number of unlawful detainer cases filed per month jumped from 379 in 2023 to 622 in the first three months of 2024, with the average number of cases resolved per month going from 290 in 2023 to 498 in the first three months of this year.

The number of cases pending skyrocketed from 476 in 2020 to 2,151 through March of this year, an increase of nearly 352%.

The proposed legislation will be referred to the King County Law and Justice Committee.

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