UPDATE: As you probably already know, the George Washington Supreme Court declined to review this case, thereby effectively endorsing all of the lower courts’ abuse of this tenant, and rendering it the new “normal” in relation to the question of whether tenants have any rights a landlord is bound to respect. Our condolences on all those who are now suffering the consequences, and our curses upon all those who were in a position to prevent this, but declined to do so because they didn’t like the politics or skin color of the tenant who was used as the canary in this coal mine.
Do Tenants Have Any Rights A Landlord Is Bound To Respect?
By Leith Kahl – FOR THE OMARI TAHIR DEFENSE COMMITTEE (OTDC)
On November 23, the day after Thanksgiving, the Washington State Supreme Court will decide whether or not it will review a lower court’s finding that any tenants in WA State may be incarcerated indefinitely as punishment for appealing an eviction, and may also be banned from their entire neighborhood as a part of their eviction from a single address.
If the ruling is not overturned and becomes precedent, then all tenants in WA State may be incarcerated indefinitely for appealing an eviction, denied a trial, denied counsel in appealing the incarceration, banned from their entire neighborhood as a result of their eviction from a single address, and have their belongings destroyed or taken to the dump directly from their home on the basis of a sheriff ruling the property to be “junk”.
This would become one of the largest judicial setbacks to tenants rights in the history of Washington State.
The case in question is known as King County Superiour Case #16-2-10995-SEA, MidTown vs. Omari Tahir-Garrett (WA Supreme Court number 96093-3), and has already been upheld in favor of Washington Landlords by the State’s Division 1 Court of Appeals. When the in pauperis and pro se tenant in this case appealed to Division 1, that Court chose to compartmentalize his appeal into five separate case numbers, ultimately ruling against the tenant in all five sections of the case, in part due to the artificial fragmentation of the case. Lawyers from at least three major corporate law firms (K&L Gates, Harrison Benis & Spence, and Sirrianni Spoonemore Hamburger) worked to represent the landlords against this one impoverished tenant.
The landlord class is already celebrating the lower court’s ruling as a victory over all tenants.
Their statewide organization, Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHA) has filed a formal motion asking the Division 1 Court of Appeals to publish its opinion in this case. The RHA openly states that their purpose in filing that motion was to increase the speed and reduce the cost of thousands of Washington State evictions which, in their own words, “make up a significant portion of trial court dockets”. RHA’s motion further states that King County alone was already processing over 7,000 eviction cases per year as early as 2013, which can be done more efficiently if this experimental precedent is accepted as the new normal way for the courts to treat all tenants!
(Court documents verifying our above statements are linked below.)
The Landlords believe that they can use this case to set a sweeping anti-tenant precedent because the elderly African American tenant in question, Omari Tahir Garrett, is a highly controversial figure. However, his physical eviction itself sparked several weeks of major protests, and he is supported by a mostly volunteer ad-hoc defense committee, whose website can be found at www.fundedjustice.com/saveumojafest.
In the 1980s Omari was part of the resistance that prevented the Seattle Police Department from establishing a precinct at 23rd and Yesler. Omari has also been a part of popular long-term building sit-ins that have led to the creation of the African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center, El Centro de la Raza, and Africatown. The Omari Tahir Defense Committee’s website includes an extensive timeline of Seattle events he has been a part of from the mid 1980s through the latest illegal eviction conducted against him by landlord Hugh Bangasser (a wealthy K&L Gates Attorney) in March 2017.
The Omari Tahir Defense Committee is asking concerned citizens to email the Supreme Court of Washington (Supreme@courts.wa.gov) to tell it to accept review of Omari Tahir’s appeal of Midtown vs Omari, and to post screenshots of their email on social media encouraging friends and family to join the demonstration of public interest in this case.
The Gates and Allen billionaire landlord class are once more trying to radically reshape the rule of law by aggressively attacking the Black grassroots institutions and Black elders in our community, and hoping that the rest of us won’t stand up to defend them. If we don’t stand up because it isn’t happening to us YET, or if we don’t stand up because we’re afraid it MIGHT happen to us next, then we only ensure that no one will be there to stand up for us when it DOES. We need to stop this BEFORE it becomes a precedent. We cannot allow these wealthy landlords to amass such absolute power over us all. Defend your own basic human rights. Join the fight against these tenant-hating judges and billionaire landlords!
Leith Kahl is co-chair of the O.T. Defense Committee. He can be contacted at (206) 940-3807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Supreme Court of Washington State,
( Supreme@courts.wa.gov , (360) 357 2077),
As a member of the population of Washington State, I am writing to urge you to accept review of the appeal of Case #16-2-10995-SEA, MidTown vs. Omari Tahir-Garrett (WA Supreme Court number 96093-3), and to grant the appellant tenant’s requests for relief. This case is a matter of great public interest to me and every tenant in the state.
If you do not review and overturn the lower courts’ radical new anti-tenant position in this matter, then every constitutional and other legal right historically held by any tenant in WA will be seriously called into question, including the right to appeal an eviction to a magistrate under the Landlord Tenant Act. Landlords will gain the right to punish any tenant who does so appeal by having those tenants indefinitely incarcerated, and banned from entire neighborhoods as part of an eviction order from one single address therein.
The lower court’s current position in the matter calls into question whether any working class tenant in Washington in fact possesses any right that a landlord is bound to respect. Please do not allow the lower courts to grant the landlords of our state such absolute and arbitrary power.
Anyone who wishes to confirm the accuracy of our Defense Committee’s public statement with their own eyes can read the record of this case, either in the links below, or in the archives of the court itself.
The Omari Tahir Defense Committee (OTDC) always accepts donations.