CURRENT TALLY OF TENANT RIGHT TO COUNSEL JURISDICTIONS: 17 cities, 4 states, 1 county!
"The effort to mandate a renter’s access to legal representation when facing housing displacement appears to be losing no steam in 2022." - National Apartment Association
"It’s more collaborative now than adversarial, and it’s really been much better for the system ..." - A landlord attorney talking to the Spokane Journal of Business about the atmosphere in the wake of Washington State's tenant right to counsel
Check out our 3-minute video celebrating the victories and leaders of the tenant right to counsel movement
Table of Contents:
There are many things that can be pointed to to justify the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction, such as the massive disparity in representation, the data showing how effective it is, and the long list of diverse stakeholders that support RTC. We've also developed a set of right to counsel talking points that can be used with policymakers, funders, and others.
Addditionally, a CityHealth blog post by the NCCRC and Professor Kathryn Leifheit, PhD MSPH, highlights the primary effects of eviction on health.
Here area a few additional points to consider:
- CityHealth rankings: every year, CityHealth grades 75 cities on how they are doing with respect to certain policies, and the cities do care how they fare. Thanks to our collaboration with CityHealth, they now include right to counsel (which they call Legal Support for Renters) in their 2.0 policy package.
- In conjunction with CityHealth and Enterprise Community Partners, we released a report, Addressing America's Housing Crisis, that addresses three policies that can address the country's housing crisis while furthering health and race equity. One of the policies is a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. We also had a webinar on the report: check out the recording and slide deck!
- In 2022, we worked with CityHealth to rate their 75 cities on their eviction right to counsel polciies. Check out the NCCRC's CityHealth page to learn more!
- Press coverage: the national and local press are paying close attention to the eviction crisis, and policymakers care about that kind of attention. Her'es a smattering of high-profile articles over just the last few years:
- Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Evictions
- Shelterforce, Tenant Protections 101
- Public opinion research: Data for Progress and The Appeal has conducted polling showing that support for a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction has grown to the point that “81 percent of voters—including 87 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 70 percent of Republicans—support[ing] a right to counsel for evictions proceedings.”
- Race equity data: One of our primary motivations for focusing on the eviction right to counsel is the fact that the people who must suffer from the eviction crisis are BIPOC tenants and families. Here are a few data points as to the magnitude of that disparate impact:
- Center for American Progress, The Disproportionate Burden of Eviction on Black Women
- Eviction Lab
- A 2023 Eviction Lab study found that "Black Americans made up only 18.6% of all renters yet accounted for 51.1% of those threatened with eviction and 43.4% of those who were evicted. By contrast, although White Americans make up just over half of all renters (50.5%), they accounted for only 26.3% of those threatened with eviction and 32.0% of those who were evicted."
- Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans
We've put together a comprehensive analysis of all tenant right to counsel laws that have passed at the city/state level.
Also, check out these enacted law trackers:
- NCCRC interactive map and legislative tracking page (NOTE: this page includes all civil right to counsel legislation, not just bills related to evictions).
- National Low Income Housing Coalition's State and Local Tenant Protections database (all laws since June 2021).
- LSC's eviction laws database only tracks state-level right to counsel laws, and only those in effect as of Jan 1, 2021 (at that point, no state had yet enacted a right to counsel).
- National League of Cities - Local Eviction Prevention Policy and Program Tool (city-level data only)
For many years, it was regularly reported that tenants were represented 10% of the time, compared to 90% of landlords. However, our recent data from several dozen jurisdictions actually puts the tenant representation figure at a mere 4% and the landlord figure at 83%.
- Cost/benefit reports:
- Stout, a financial analysis company, has done a number of studies estimating the costs and benefits of providing a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. Every report has found that cities and states will save far more than they spend to provide such a right, due to avoided costs around shelters, health care, foster care, and other social safety net services.
- A 2020 Massachusetts report conducted by the Analysis Group on behalf of the Boston Bar Association concluded that "full legal representation in eviction cases would cost the Commonwealth $26.29 million, while the cost savings associated with such representation are estimated to be $63.02 million. For every dollar spent on full legal representation in eviction cases, the Commonwealth saves approximately $2.40 on the direct costs associated with homelessness."
- A 2020 cost/benefit study in Delaware found that "During 2019, over $2.5 million in income, health, or housing benefits resulted from preventing evictions in Delaware."
- RTC program impact highlights:
- 84% of represented tenants were able to remain in their homes.
- "100 percent of tenants with calendared eviction cases had access to legal services, and 71 percent of tenants who appeared in Housing Court had full representation by attorneys – nearly double the pre-pandemic rate of 38 percent, and an exponential increase over the 1 percent of tenants who had lawyers in 2013."
- Eviction filing rate dropped 30% after funding began for expanded representation in 2014.
- 59% of fully represented tenants have been able to remain in their homes.
- Of the 30% who did not remain in their unit, 70% received a favorable settlement, such as a move-out with sufficient time and money (i.e., a combination of rent waiver and cash payment to move out).
- The filing rate dropped 10% in the first year.
- 93% of clients avoided an eviction judgment or an involuntary move.
- 83% of clients who desired rental assistance were able to obtain it, and of the 21% of clients who were unaware of rental assistance at the time they contacted Legal Aid, approximately 98% wanted rental assistance and Legal Aid helped 81% of those clients obtain it.
- 92% of clients who wanted additional time to move, and 97% who sought monetary relief, were able to get it.
- Philadelphia: Represented tenants were less likely to be locked out (15% compared to 27%), more likely to have a case withdrawn (22% compared to 29%) and much less likely to default (4% compared to 22%).
- Boulder: 63% of represented cases avoided eviction, which was a 26% increase. In essence, all tenants who appeared in court and were provided an attorney avoided eviction; only the no-show tenants were given an eviction order.
- Toledo: ""Of the 139 cases closed so far, nearly 88 percent, or 122, of those cases were successful in avoiding eviction. As a result, 177 adults and 190 children were able to stay in their homes."
- Of the 82% of clients that wanted to prevent an involuntary move, 71% achieved that goal;
- Of the 80% that sought to avoid an eviction on their record, 76% achieved that goal.
- The estimated cost savings to the state were $5.8 - $6.3 million.
- Washington State: "Tenants remained in their homes in more than 50% of closed cases where the result is known."
- Non-RTC tenant rep project impact highlights:
- An October 2023 report from the Los Angeles Housing Department found that "From the start of the program in 2021 through June 2023, the EDP has provided legal services to 7,883 households, consisting of 1,967 full-scope legal representation and 5,916 cases supported with limited-scope representation. The reported outcomes indicate that of the 715 closed full-scope legal cases, 632 cases (88%) resulted in positive outcomes for the households through staying in their homes, receiving time and money to move out, or getting a waiver of back rent. The reported economic benefits of the closed full-scope cases indicate that the societal gains of this program over a one-year period range from $8,120,941 in short-term benefits (court fee waivers, waived back rent, and relocation assistance) to $4,614,565 in long-term economic benefits (the savings to the tenant over three years due to not moving, calculated as the difference between the tenant’s rent and the Fair Market Rent over 36 months, plus $2,000 in relocation expenses)."
- A research brief from Open Justice Oklahoma found tenant legal representation increased the odds of unit retention by 75%.
- In Massachusetts, a statewide COVID eviction legal help project providing full representation to low-income tenants resulted in 90% of cases closing in positive outcomes, with 70% of tenants remaining in their homes and 20% of tenants having more time to find a place to live.
- A California study found that fully represented tenants stayed in their units three times as often as those receiving limited or no legal assistance. When tenants did have to move, fully represented tenants were given twice as long to do so.
- A study out of Hennepin County found that represented tenants were twice as likely to stay in their homes, received twice as long to move if necessary, and were four times less likely to use a homeless shelter than those without counsel. 78% of represented tenants left with a clean eviction record, compared to 6% of unrepresented tenants.
- A Denver study found that represented tenants remained in their homes 70-100% of the time, compared to 32% of unrepresented tenants. For unrepresented tenants, the dispossession rate was 43% (Denver Housing Authority cases) and 68% (private housing cases).
- Overall, Stout LLC,a financial analysis company that has produced extensive right to counsel reports for numerous cities, has consistently found that a right to counsel leads to more than 90% of tenants avoiding disruptive displacement.
- A Baltimore survey of rent court respondents found that despite 80% of tenants having a potential defense, only 8% without representation successfully asserted it.
- A Philadelphia report found that “6.8 percent of survey respondents reported experiencing at least one form of illegal eviction (being locked out, paid to move, threatened with eviction, or otherwise illegally forced to move by their landlord) between February 2019 and February 2020." It also found that "Tenants chose not to pay rent because their landlord would not make repairs (19 percent) almost as often as they could not pay rent because of changes in their finances (20 percent). Many also reported not paying rent because a landlord threatened or harassed them (18 percent)."
- A study prior to passage of RTC in NYC found that for 1,200 eviction cases from 2013-2017, only 3% of unrepresented tenants with a valid claim for rent abatement got rent it, vs. 27% of represented tenants.
- Other impact studies: Our comprehensive bibliography tracks the studies that have analyzed the impact of providing counsel for tenants in eviction cases.
With polling showing right to counsel has broad bipartisan support, the question has been less "why" and more" how", and the most typical "how" question relates to funding. Many programs use general revenue to pay for right to counsel (backstopped by data showing that right to counsel saves money), but other examples include:
- Cleveland: $3 million through the United Way acting as bridge funding
- Boulder: funding provided through a rental excise tax
- Baltimore: $500k from the Sheriff's budget
- Maryland: $11.8 million from the abandoned property fund.
- Jersey City: developer fees
Additionally, our federal funding tracker includes a table explaining how many of the federal funding sources work, a webinar featuring jurisdictions discussing how they accessed the funding for right to counsel or tenant representation expansion, and a list of jurisdictions we are aware of that have made such a federal funding commitment. The Treasury Department (alongside HUD and the Attorney General's Office) has urged jurisdictions to use this funding to support a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. It is also worth noting that Congress appropriated some funding to HUD for tenant representation.
Last Fall, PolicyLink launched the Housing Justice on the Ballot webinar series. In continuation of that critical work, PolicyLink and the NCCRC co-authored Housing Justice on the Ballot: Initiative Guide, intended for tenant organizers, housing advocates, legal advocates, and anyone interested in bringing housing justice to life by advancing renter protections on the ballot. We also did a webinar about the Guide, and PolicyLink did a Denver ballot initiative webinar and San Francisco ballot initiative webinar.
Whether groups are in the beginning stages of exploring a ballot initiative campaign for their jurisdiction and want to prepare themselves for the journey, or they are inviting partner organizations to join an existing campaign and want them to know what to expect for the path ahead — this guide is meant to support campaigns from policy idea to implementation. Most importantly, this guide is filled with advice and tips from campaign leaders nationwide who have successfully led ballot initiative campaigns for housing justice or are currently running one. Their stories are captured in case studies spread throughout the guide, and their wisdom — the foundation on which this guide is based — is an invaluable resource for housing justice campaigns to come.
Historically, the movement for a right to counsel in civil cases has been driven by the legal community: legal services organizations, private bar associations, law firms, pro bono organizations, nonprofits, access to justice commissions, legal academics, and so on. However, efforts to establish a right to counsel in eviction cases have been achieved in places like New York City, San Francisco, and Newark largely through the efforts of community-based tenant organizing group. When the right to counsel campaigns are centered upon such groups, achievement of the right to counsel can not only increase fairness in the judicial system, but also help transform the general power dynamic between tenants and landlords.
In November 2019, the NCCRC co-hosted a 90-minute webinar with the Right to Counsel Coalition of NYC (RTCNYC) to explore how attorneys can work with tenant organizers in order to pursue a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. Here are the materials from that webinar:
Additionally, RTCNYC has developed:
- An organizing toolkit for jurisdictions looking to initiate a campaign around an eviction right to counsel;
- A campaign map displaying where campaigns are active;
- A convening of organizers that led to a list of shared principles for legislation.
- A documentary on how RTCNYC achieved the right to counsel in NYC.
- A report on how the eviction right to counsel has strengthened the tenant movement in NYC
Check out this video where we celebrated the gains of the movement and reflected back on lessons learned!
Also, check out:
- Building the Plane While We Fly It - Implementing Year One of Washington State’s Right to Counsel in Evictions
- Implementing a Statewide Right to Counsel for Tenants - Learning from Washington, Maryland, and Connecticut
- Lessons from Four Cities Fighting to Stop Evictions with Right to Counsel. This outlines lessons on a variety of topics: organizing, campaign beginnings and strategies, changing the landlord-tenant power imbalance, and much more (including a thorough resource list). These lessons emerged during a webinar series co-hosted by RTCNYC and NCCRC.
- Implementing a Statewide Right to Counsel for Tenants: Learning from Washington, Maryland, and Connecticut
- Massachusetts - Building Partnerships & Community Connections by the Mass. Legal Services COVID Eviction Legal Help Project
- Massachusetts RTC Coalition site (contains fact sheets and support letters useful for other jurisdictions)
- State/local right to counsel websites:
- Connecticut: portal and petition sites
- Detroit (Facebook page)
- Jersey City
- Lake Worth (petition)
- Los Angeles
- Milwaukee County
- New York City
- Philadelphia: City page and PEPP program page
- San Francisco
- South Carolina
- Washington State: OCLA site and Eviction Prevention Campaign Toolkit
- National advocacy groups:
- The Center for American Progress: A Right to Counsel is a Right to a Fighting Chance
- Center for Popular Democracy - Social Housing for All
- CityHealth: Legal Support for Renters
- Data for Progress:
- Democracy Policy Network: Tenant Bill of Rights (includes RTC)
- Enterprise Community Partners: Home for Good: Strategies to Prevent Eviction and Promote Housing Stability
- Housing Not Handcuffs: Policy Solutions
- Local Housing Solutions: Legal Assistance for At-Risk Renters
- The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC):
- Advocates' Guide 2023 (contains section on RTC)
- New America: Displaced in America: Policy Recommendations
- People's Action: A National Homes Guarantee
- Our Homes Our Health (co-produced by Right to the City)
- Federal government:
- The Federal Reserve:
- FedCommunities, Eviction Moratorium Highlights Need for Tenants To Have Counsel
- Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Evictions Highlight Need for Tenants To Have Counsel
- Legal Services Corporation: Opinion: Renters facing eviction should have a right to a lawyer
- The National League of Cities: Using Right to Counsel as an Eviction Diversion Strategy (blog) and Expanding Access to Legal Representation: Right to Counsel & Eviction Prevention (webinar)
- Real estate industry:
- Multifamily NW: "If a renter needs assistance to help understand their rights, they should have access to qualified representation", in Portland Mercury
- Real Estate Board of NY: testimony in support of NY State right to counsel bill