Give Renters a Right to Counsel for Eviction Hearings

Give Renters a Right to Counsel for Eviction Hearings

The Point

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. 

Dive Deeper