Jesse Jones: Homeless homeowner gets his house back

SEATTLE — We met Jason Roth in October. He was homeless and living in his van while his delinquent tenant, Kareem Hunter, lived rent free in Jason Roth’s house.

“I just want my house back. I’m not sleeping. I’m sick of sleeping in my van on couches. I just want to be back in my house. So, my only thoughts going through my head right now,” told us in the fall of 2023.

After our interview, Jason’s story went viral, garnering national attention for its sheer absurdity.

A few weeks ago, Hunter’s free ride came to an abrupt end when King County Sheriff’s descended on Jason’s home.

“The agreement that my attorney and Housing Justice Project came to was he would leave before the court date, which are supposed to be on Tuesday. So, he was supposed to be out Monday, 11:59 p.m.. And he stayed and he wasn’t making any efforts to move. And he had all the warnings from the Sheriff’s department and at that point it was in their hands,” Jason said.

The Housing Justice Project (HJP) is the taxpayer funded law firm that defended Hunter in court. HJP received more than $4 million to represent tenants statewide.

Jason lost more than $80,000 in back rent and legal fees. But in today’s housing market, this eviction was considered a win.

“I’m shocked that this was considered a win. You know, providing housing for a complete scam artist for a year and having him walk away with no punishments is a win. That’s crazy,” said Roth.

Hunter’s free lawyer negotiated to wipe the eviction from Hunter’s record, ‘an order of limited dissemination’ clause included in many King County evictions.

Roth thinks this is bad news for other small landlords.

“He’s going to do this to someone else. So, even though it’s a win for me, it’s not a win for the whole situation because you still have this guy whose inspiring others to do the same thing, who will probably do it himself.” Roth said.

Sean Flynn, Executive Director Rental of Housing Association of Washington says the tenant laws in Washington state are undermining the growth of affordable housing.

One bad, one bad tenant puts, puts, puts the lights out for that housing provider. As soon as they’re able, they sell the unit, they remove the unit from the rental market forever. It’s gone.

Flynn say the system we have now is bad for housing providers and tenants, “because you’re going to have less housing and it’s very, very broken.”

Jason says being a small landlord exhausted him, both financially and emotionally.

“I’d say that was probably the lowest point that someone could look at this guy who’s an actual professional scam artist, who is opening my mail, who was getting free rent here, throwing parties here, making an income off the property, you know, has passed evictions, has passed judgments and lawsuits and a criminal record. Some people would say that he’s the victim,” Jason said.

Currently, Washington state is the only state that provides delinquent tenants a free lawyer to represent them in eviction court. The current back log in King County, according to the Rental Housing Association of Washington, is 6 months.