Philadelphia is fifth city to provide right to counsel for tenants

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06/18/2021, Legislation, Housing - Evictions

UPDATE: City invests $3 million in right to counsel


WHYY has reported that the City of Philadelphia has invested $3 million in the Eviction Prevention Project, which will be carrying out the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.


UPDATE: WHYY article cites stats supporting right to counsel


An article in WHYY provided some context for why Philadelphia chose to enact a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction:


8% of tenants (but 81% of landlords) have attorneys.
78% of pro se tenants are "disruptively displaced".
12% of all evictions are unjust.
20% of shelter use is due to evictions.


Also, The Regulatory Review explores how "municipal housing regulations rely on tenant enforcement to function effectively" and how the right to counsel fits into that, as well as how advocates are fighting for stronger landlord/tenant laws for the new attorneys to enforce.


UPDATE: Bill is enacted by City Council!


On Nov 14, the full City Council voted to enact the tenant right to counsel bill.  The Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, Philadelphia Tribune, and National Law Review have more.


UPDATE: Bill passes out of committee


The eviction right to counsel bill was unanimously voted out of committee and will go for a full vote before the City Council on November 14.  WHYY, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Philadelphia Citizen have more.


UPDATE: Bill filed to establish right to counsel in eviction cases


Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym has introduced an ordinance to provide a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.  KYW and Next City have more, and check out the fact sheet about Philly evictions and the right to counsel as well as an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer explaining why the City needs to take this step.


According to WHYY, "Every candidate who responded to a survey by Reclaim Philadelphia, a progressive political group, indicated they would support the right to counsel. A handful who did not respond to Reclaim’s questions, including Domb and 2nd District candidate Lauren Vidas, also expressed support for the idea. Second District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson co-sponsored the legislation."

UPDATE: Philly City Council takes small step towards right to counsel


Law360 reported that Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced a bill to create a tenant representation fund as the first step towards a right to counsel for eviction cases.


UPDATE: Report finds Philly would save $45 million by investing $3.5 million in tenant rep


A new report by financial analysis company Stout concludes that if the City were to invest just $3.5 million annually to provide counsel for all low-income tenants facing eviction, it would receive a return of $45.2 million annually.  The report also found that only 7 percent of Philadelphia tenants are represented, compared to 80 percent of landlords, and that represented tenants are only displaced 5 percent of the time, compared to 78 percent of pro se tenants.


The report's release was covered by the Philadelphia TribuneWHYYCityLabPhiladelphia WeeklyKYW 1060 News RadioPlanPhillyNext CityLaw360, and Governing.


UPDATE: City Council allocates $500,000, doubling current investment


In response to the hearings, the Philadelphia City Council has allocated $500,000 to increase representation for tenants facing eviction.  Councilmember Helen Gym, who sponsored the legislation establishing the hearings, stated that "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."  Read the City Council's announcement.


UPDATE: first hearing held on March 20, 2017


The City Council had its first hearing (video link) related to the resolution on March 20, 2017.  The hearing has been covered by PlanPhilly (both before and after the hearing), the Philadelphia Tribune, Huffington PostGeneroCity, (in a commentary by NCCRC participants Cathy Carr and Joe Sullivan that was co-authored by Deborah Gross, the Philadelphia Bar Chancellor), NBC 10, CBS 3, Telemundo 62Al Dia, and NewsWorks (op-ed).

Read the testimony of Philadelphia Bar Chancellor Deborah Gross.




The Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution authorizing the Committee on Licenses and Inspections and the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to "conduct hearings concerning the impact of eviction and substandard housing on the health and wellbeing of low-income renters, and examin[e] solutions that would improve the safety and stability of rental housing, including the right to counsel."  

The resolution notes the crisis of affordable housing for low-income renters, the lack of landlord compliance with certain safety requirements, and the dire consequences of eviction (including "loss of employment, missed schooling, and damage to physical and mental health", as well as stigma, damage to credit, and blacklisting).  It then makes strong statements in support of a right to counsel:

A substantial number of people dealing with substandard housing or facing eviction proceedings live in poverty, cannot afford or obtain counsel to represent them, and must appear in court unrepresented despite the fact that eviction proceedings are technical legal proceedings in which rules of evidence and procedural and substantive law apply;


Unrepresented parties operate on an uneven playing field, with 80-85% of landlords having legal representation in Philadelphia landlord-tenant court while only 5-8% of tenants have such representation;


Representation in eviction proceedings keeps people in their homes and communities and out of the homeless shelters and provides fundamental fairness and due process for those who face imminent loss of housing by negotiating time and payment agreements, helping navigate court processes, addressing substandard housing conditions, and defending against retaliation;


Reviews of Philadelphia Municipal Court data has shown that tenants with attorneys are far less likely to be evicted and more likely to assert their right to safe and habitable housing that meets code requirements


Investing in a right to counsel for tenants is cost-effective, is one of the best measures to prevent evictions, housing instability, and homelessness, and is an essential tool in combating poverty and improving the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents and communities.


Read the press release on the City Council website.

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes



The NCCRC gave some input on the bill drafts and lend support to the coalition.