Right to Counsel Across the Country
On June 10, 2021, Connecticut won statewide right to counsel in evictions! The bill was signed by the Governor on the last day of their legislative session and $20 million was allocated from federal American Rescue Plan Act funds over the next two years to kick start the program as they identify a permanent source of funding.
In May, Maryland became the second state to win statewide right to counsel! The law creates a statewide program for households with an annual income that is at or below 50 percent of the state’s median household income.
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. In February 2020, City Counsel held a hearing on a bill that would increase the income limit to 400%.
The City's 2020 annual report, reflecting on 3 years of the RTC program, found that 86% of tenants represented through the program in housing court were able to remain in their homes and 98% in administrative proceedings were allowed to remain.
The City invested $117 million in 2020 and has allocated $131 million to the program for 2021.
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 November 2020, voters in Boulder, Colorado approved a ballot initiative establishing a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.
In December 2019, Santa Monica City Council voted to develop an ordinance for a program to provide free legal counsel to tenants facing eviction.
In April 2021, Washington state became the first in the nation to pass statewide Right to Counsel as Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5160. SB5160 establishes a right to counsel in eviction cases for indigent people among other eviction protections for renters, and routes the funds through the Office of Civil Legal Aid.
In April 2021, Louisville Metro Council members voted in favor of establishing a Right to Counsel program for low-income families with children who are facing eviction, with services provided by the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless.The program will be funded with $400,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and will run for at least a year.
In June 2021, the Denver City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to guarantee counsel to tenants earning 80 percent or less of area median income facing eviction. Advocates are pursuing a ballot initiative that would extend the right to all tenants regardless of income and create a new funding stream.
A bill filed in the Seattle City Council, CB 120007, would provide a right to counsel for all tenants facing eviction regardless of income. On March 4, 2021 the bill was voted out of the Sustainability and Renters' Rights committee, and could go to a full City Council vote on March 15.
In August 2020, Rochester implemented a $1 million "universal representation" program for income-eligible tenants. In commenting about the program and the unequal representation of landlords and tenants, Administrative Judge for New York's Seventh Judicial District Craig Doran said "[t]his levels the playing field..[y]ou always think of the scales of justice when you think of courts, and justice always works better when those scales are level."
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 eviction. It required the San Francisco Office of Housing and Community Development to implement the right to counsel program.
In early 2020, the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development released a report indicating that the right to counsel program had resulted in a 10% decrease in eviction filings from 2018-2019, that 67% of tenants who received full representation were able to stay in their homes and that, in particular, 80% of African American tenants who received help through the program were able to stay in their homes.
The Mayor set aside $3.9 million for FY2019-20 and increased this funding by $750,000 in August 2020 in light of the housing crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic. 11 organizations will provide the services.
In September 2019, Los Angeles County Supervisors passed a motion approving Phase 1 of a right to counsel program that created eviction defense pilots at 5 sites, with $2 million in funding and a recommendation that $12.5 million be a budgeted to the program annually. In December 2019, the Los Angeles City Counsel voted to dedicate an additional $9 million to its eviction defense fund.
In light of the COVID-19 housing crisis, Los Angeles County has dedicated an additional $8.7 million and the City of Los Angeles has dedicated an additional $10 to tenant representation.
RTC Bills Pending
In May 2021, New Jersey plans to launch a pilot program offering expanded access to legal counsel in eviction proceedings in Atlantic City, Trenton, and East Orange.
In June 2021, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a Right to Counsel program to provide legal representation for residents facing eviction and foreclosure. The program will be funded by America Rescue Plan funds for the next year and a half.
An initiative launched by a Justice of the Peace in Houston has resulted in the creation of a limited universal right to counsel program for tenants. In March of 2021, a city/county task force issued recommendations that include establishing a right to counsel for evictions.
In December 2018, the Newark City Council passed a Right to Counsel Ordinance. In June 2019, Newark began implementation of its Right to Counsel program, committing $400,000 to the initiative through which eligible tenants would be referred to either pro bono attorneys or Essex Newark Legal Services.
In October 2019, the Cleveland City Council unanimously approved a right to counsel bill, establishing a right to counsel to tenants facing eviction who are at or below 100% of the federal poverty level and have children. Cleveland is the first midwest city with an eviction right to counsel.
In July 2020, eligible tenants began receiving free legal assistance through Right to Counsel Cleveland, implemented as a partnership between The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland and United Way of Greater Cleveland.
On December 4 2020, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed tenants right to counsel into law, after the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a bill to provide free legal representation for low income tenants in November. The bill provides that tenants earning up to 200% of the federal poverty legal would be represented by non-profit legal services organizations.
A study conducted for a Philadelphia Bar Association Task Force in 2018 concluded that a $3.5 million annual investment in attorneys for renters would save the city at least $39 million in eviction-related shelter, medical and social service costs.