Right to Counsel Across the Country
New York City
In 2014, NYC invested $60 million in eviction defense and found in a 2-year period that representation of tenants increased from 1% to 27% and
evictions went down by 24%.
In 2017, NYC passed a city ordinance creating the first right to counsel law in the country.
Tenants facing eviction in housing court court or in certain administrative hearings have a right to counsel if their income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. If a tenant is over income, they have the right to legal consultation or an advice session. Legislation was filed in 2018 to increase the income limit to 400%.
The City allocated $93 million in new funds and specified that the funds must go to nonprofit providers. Implementation will happen in stages over a 5- year period.
In 2018, the City released a report finding that in the first year, 84% of represented tenants remained in their homes.
Six years ago, San Francisco passed a city ordinance declaring its intention to be a Right to Civil Counsel City. The City also funded a pilot project which found that representation would save over $1 million a year.
In June 2018, by a vote of 56% to 44%, voters in San Francisco passed a ballot initiative providing a right to counsel in eviction cases regardless of income within 30 days after a tenant receives an eviction notice or a lawsuit seeking eviciton. It also required the San Francisco Office of Housing and Community Development to implement the right to counsel program.
The Mayor has set aside $1.9 million for FY2018-19 and $3.9 million for FY2019-20, with full implementation planned by July 2019. 11 organizations will provide the services.
In August 2018, the Los Angeles City Council’s Housing Committee recommended that the city explore a right to counsel ordinance to guarantee tenants access to the information and representation they need when faced with landlord harassment, eviction or other issues. A motion has been filed in LA that would appropriate $10 million for 10,000 tenants as Phase I of a right to counsel.
In 2017, the Sisters of Charity Foundation funded a fellowship for an attorney with Legal Aid Services of Cleveland to explore a right to counsel in housing court. This led to members of the Cleveland City Council and courts meeting with counterparts in D.C. and NYC to learn more about right to counsel initiatives. The City Council President announced the intent to implement Phase 1 of right to counsel in 2019.
In August 2018, Newark Mayor Baraka announced a plan to introduce a bill to provide a right to counsel for tenants in evictions. In December 2018, the Newark City Council passed a Right to Counsel Ordinance.More information.
In 2019, a bill was filed in the state legislature to guarantee a right to counsel statewide for tenants making less than $50,000 who are in an eviction proceeding.
In 2015, Washington DC began a Housing Right to Counsel Project. The project is focused on subsidized housing. Tenants’ eligibility is restricted to 200% of federal poverty guidelines.
Cases are randomly selected. Approximately 1 out of 4 subsidized tenants facing eviction receives a letter from the court explaining the project and the guarantee of representation. Representation is provided by legal aid and 14 law firms.
Data from 2015-17 shows that tenants with representation had fewer defaults, fewer judgments for possession, fewer court ordered evictions, and fewer breached agreements.
The project was originally funded at $310,000. In 2017, Expanding Access to Justice Act increased funding to approximately $4.5 million.
In June 2017, Philadelphia City Council allocated $500,000 (later increased to $850,000) in new funding for legal and supportive services for tenants facing eviction.
“By taking this step to expand right to counsel for people facing eviction, our city is joining the forefront of a national movement to protect and support low-income people fighting for their rights,” said Councilor Helen Gym.