(The Center Square) – Taxpayers are footing the bill for a controversial form of tenant support, leading to thousands of dollars in rent being paid for squatters, contends Reagan Dunn, vice-chair of the Metropolitan King County Council.

Dunn is pushing for major changes when it comes to protecting landlords from tenants who he says are taking advantage of programs that were designed to help people who are really in need.

“This is not just a problem in Bellevue, but a broader problem across King County and the nation,” he told The Center Square.

The Bellevue case he’s referencing concerns Sang Kim, who along with his family, moved into a $2 million home owned by Jaskaran Singh Sarao in early 2022.

Dunn says Kim put a stated income on the rental application of $400,000 and then, after paying the first month, stopped paying.

“This is the second home where Kim has allegedly done this, so you have this pattern of behavior here that it tantamount to defrauding the homeowner,” Dunn said.

The homeowner has been trying to get Kim evicted, but a massive backlog of “unlawful detainer” cases in King County has held up the process.

“The big problem now is the Housing Justice Project has come in and taken nearly $88,000 taxpayer dollars, designed to help people who lost their jobs and had medical bills, and instead they’ve paid it to the landlord,” Dunn explained.

The Housing Justice Project provide free legal assistance to renters facing eviction in King County.

“That not only takes much needed money away from people who are genuinely on hard times and not trying to gain the system, but it also changes the deadlines for the individual having to move out because he technically is paid up,” Dunn noted. “The world divides between those who have fallen on hard times and are a few months behind on rent, and then those who are serial squatters who take advantage of the very generous landscape of tenant law that exists in Washington state and King County.”

The Center Square reached out to the Housing Justice Project for comment, and was told that someone else would call back. That call never came.

So why can’t the landlord just kick the tenant out?

“When you want to evict someone, it’s called unlawful detainer and you have to go see a judge and the judge has to order the person to be evicted and then you need the police department to come in and execute that process and make the squatter leave,” Dunn said.

He went on to say, “King County Superior Court has only three commissioners appointed to do this work and there is a 5,000-case backlog for illegal detainers right now. So if you file today, you wouldn’t get a hearing until at least the early part of 2025.”

The councilman added the county is receiving 600 new cases every month in which landlords are trying to evict tenants who refuse to leave.

“The court doesn’t have the infrastructure to get this done, as every county gets 3three of these commissioners and King County being a third of the state’s population means three just doesn’t get it done,” he lamented. “You’ve got a lot of mom-and-pop landlords like Mr. Singh who are falling further and further behind because they have to pay the mortgage on the property, the property taxes, and in some case the utility taxes, so we have a long way to go on this issue.”

Some people are running out of patience in dealing with squatters.

“When your livelihood depends on the house you rent and someone dafaults or games the system, you can understand why ‘self-help’ sometimes happens,” Dunn said, a reference to Flash Hunter of California, known as “The Squatter Hunter.”

Shelton essentially gives squatters a taste of their own medicine in an attempt to drive them out of the homes they’ve taken over without facing any real legal consequences.

“We don’t want to get to that in King County,” Dunn said. “We want the system to work without violence or threat of violence and so the system has to be fixed.”

Dunn said he’s meeting with the presiding judge in King County to discuss the issue as Superior Court judges have the authority to handle squatting cases. He believes there is room in their caseloads to help out.

“I’m also seriously considering an audit of the Housing Justice Project as they are refusing to cooperate,” Dunn said. “We do provide some funding for them, and that gives us a contractual right to audit.”