Give Renters a Right to Counsel for Eviction Hearings
Cities can keep people housed, employed, and healthy by giving them lawyers to help guide them through eviction proceedings.
Cities should establish and fund a right to counsel in eviction proceedings:
- Cities should ensure that the protections lawmakers have put in place to prevent evictions actually work. A right to counsel would help renters navigate complicated legal proceedings, identify defenses against eviction, and negotiate rent repayment.
- Cities should establish right-to-counsel programs, which, when implemented, result in significant drops in evictions. Programs in New York City, Cleveland, and San Francisco have shown success, with many other cities now considering similar programs.
- Funding a right to counsel at eviction proceedings actually creates cost savings. In Philadelphia, an investment of $3.5 million in a right-to-counsel program would save the city $45.2 million annually, according to a study by Stout Risius Ross.
A right to counsel in eviction proceedings would save lives and promote justice:
- Evictions are a public health crisis. The loss of housing makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19 and the resulting transience increases its spread throughout the community. A right to counsel is a proven way to decrease evictions and thus improve public health.
- Professor Emily Benfer notes in a recent explainer for The Appeal Lab, that “preventing COVID-19 eviction alone could save the U.S. upwards of $129 billion in social and health care costs associated with homelessness.”
- The Washington Post Editorial Board recently called out the lack of counsel for renters in eviction cases as “an offense to justice,” and explained that “poverty-stricken litigants in noncriminal cases routinely face life-shattering outcomes, including jail time, without ever seeing a lawyer or receiving basic legal advice.”
- Black and Latinx renters are more likely to be targeted for eviction and more likely to have suffered hardship due to the pandemic, making the right to counsel a racial justice issue, as well.
- How Tenants’ Right to Counsel Can End Inequality in the Eviction System—And Save Lives. Ensuring renters have representation in housing court would help close a “justice gap” and be a life-saving intervention for those at risk of losing their homes.
- Most Tenants Facing Eviction Don’t Have a Right to an Attorney. Lawmakers Want to Change That. Numerous city councils and state legislatures are debating giving renters a right to counsel, which can make the difference between stability and catastrophe.
- How Washington Lawmakers Are Tackling the Eviction Crisis: Washington State Senator Patty Kuderer, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, and Housing Justice Project Managing Attorney Edmund Witter speak with The Appeal Live about the need for a right to counsel in eviction cases.
- Voters Support a Right to Counsel for People Facing Eviction. A strong majority of likely voters across party lines want Congress to increase funds for legal services to prevent evictions, and believe that people should have a right to counsel in evictions proceedings.