Posted on March 13, 2019
No Evictions without Representation: Right to Counsel in Housing Courts
"The legal system is largely inaccessible for Providence tenants who arrive without legal counsel, creating an unjust balance of power by perpetuating already skewed power dynamics between landlords and renters:" https://t.co/m8pKwDqINR
— Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (@RTCNYC) March 11, 2019
Many people don’t realize that the Fifth Amendment’s Miranda rights and the Sixth Amendment’s Constitutional right to counsel only apply to criminal cases. Evictions, however, are considered civil cases. Within civil courts, the right to counsel is not guaranteed. In housing courts nationwide, 2.3 million evictions are filed annually—and yet, only 10 percent of tenants have representation, compared to 90 percent of landlords. Without legal counsel, tenants must navigate complex housing laws to adequately represent themselves against experienced lawyers who specialize in housing cases.
Without a guarantee of representation, tenants are aware of the challenges they face and are often discouraged from even fighting their cases. Without a complete understanding of their rights, they are susceptible to unjust agreements on conditions set by landlords. This is further impacted by the fact that having an eviction on a tenant’s record is a large obstacle to obtaining stable housing in the future. In response to these issues, a National Right to Counsel movement has recently gained ground. In August 2017, New York became the first city to guarantee legal representation for low-income tenants who are 200 percent below the federal poverty level.
Although the costs of such a program are significant, the city would save on transitional homelessness costs such as shelters and services. The Right to Counsel NYC Coalition projected that the city would also save on administrative costs, as unfounded cases would be less frequent if everyone had access to lawyers knowledgeable about housing law. Less than two years in, evictions in New York have already dropped by 14 percent. This policy has quadrupled the number of tenants who are now able to access city-funded legal services.