Maryland Governor Should Sign Bill Giving Renters Access to Counsel During Evictions

Maryland Governor Should Sign Bill Giving Renters Access to Counsel During Evictions

The Point

With the passage of HB18 on April 12, 2021, Maryland is positioned to become the first state to provide its renters with attorneys during eviction proceedings. Governor Larry Hogan should sign this bill to help keep people housed, employed, and safe. 

Governor Hogan should sign Maryland’s access-to-counsel bill:  

  • Governor Hogan should sign HB18, which would, among other things, give some renters facing an eviction an attorney to represent them through the complicated legal process. One of the bill’s sponsors, Delegate Wanika Fisher, explained to The Appeal, “A lot of people have defenses to stay in their homes. But you won’t know those defenses if you don’t have a lawyer.” 
  • Governor Hogan—who has until the end of May to sign, veto, or allow the bill to become law without his signature—should listen to his constituents. Seventy-three percent of Maryland voters support a right to counsel for renters, according to polling by The Appeal Lab and Data for Progress. That number includes 80% of Democrats, 69% of independents, and 63% of Republicans.
  • A veto by Governor Hogan could delay these much-needed protections. If it becomes law, it would go into effect on October 1, 2021. According to reporting by The Appeal, the legislature likely has enough votes to override a veto, but would have to do so in a special session or when the legislature returns January 2022.

Legal representation at eviction proceedings significantly improves outcomes: 

  • Represented tenants are more likely to remain in their homes. “The statistics are extremely clear here that tenants do a lot better when they’re represented,” Delegate Vaughn Stewart, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Appeal. Studies of the programs in Cleveland and New York City show that more than 86% of tenants who were represented by a lawyer were able to avoid eviction.
  • Avoiding eviction also means avoiding a cascade of destabilizing consequences. Evictions often lead to homelessness, job loss, academic decline, food insecurity, and decreased life expectancy. 
  • A renters’ right to counsel improves public health because it helps prevent evictions, which contribute to the spread of COVID-19. For example, a study from researchers at Duke University found that eviction moratoria reduced COVID-19 deaths by 11% and infections by 4%. But, as Professor Emily Benfer points out in a new report from The Appeal Lab, an eviction moratorium only works when it is enforced. Attorneys help make that happen. 

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