All about Philadelphia's eviction right to counsel

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12/04/2023, Legislation, Housing - Evictions

UPDATE May 2024: RTC sponsor releases report on RTC, other eviction protections


A report by Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym, Reduce Evictions & Transform the System: Lessons from Philadelphia, looks at the impact of a number of changes to the eviction laws in Philly, including RTC.  The report finds that eviction filings and court delays have been reduced, and discusses the lessons learned from rolling out the different protections.


UPDATE: another zip code added to RTC


In Dec 2023 the City anounced it is adding a fifth zip code to the eviction RTC implementation, and explained how it chose the zip code in question:


This expansion builds on the success of the initial rollout. The zip codes were selected by the City based on the results of the Reinvestment Fund’s analysis of need (eviction volume) and likely uptake (eviction filing rate and family poverty). The same methodology was used to select the latest zip code. The percentage of tenants receiving legal representation in RTC zip codes is expected to grow as tenants become more aware of this vital resource.


UPDATE: RTC expanding to additional zip codes


The City of Philadelphia has announced that renters in two additional zip codes will now be entitled to counsel when facing eviction. The expansion was covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, Next City, and Philly Voice.


The City also released its first annual RTC report, which found that "RTC-represented tenants avoided all default judgments and were more likely to enter into a judgment by Agreement (JBA) where attorneys could help them negotiate reduced judgments, more time to move, and payment plans."  The study also found that RTC clients were Black women about 80% of the time.  A 2022 report added that "represented tenants were less likely to be locked out (15% compared to 27%), more likely to have a case withdrawn (22% compared to 29%) and much less likely to default (4% compared to 22%.”


UPDATE: study, video provide support for right to counsel


Community Legal Services of Philadelphia has created a new video that explains the impact of a right to counsel and provides tenants with the information they need to apply.


Additionally, a new report from Community Legal Services in Philadelphia and the Housing Initiative at Penn explores the trends and challenges in the City's rental market.  Of note:


  • “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. This rate is on par with Philadelphia court-based eviction filing rate of 7.2 percent for the same time period.  It suggests that nearly 20,000 renters in the city may face illegal eviction in any given year.”
  • "In general, nonpayment of rent was the most common reason [for eviction], which in turn resulted from many different factors. 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). Combined, these findings suggest that although slightly over half of evictions are related to nonpayment, over one-third of such nonpayment-related evictions are tied to owner behavior."


UPDATE: right to counsel launches!


The City of Philadelphia officially launched its tenant right to counsel program in 2 zip codes.  Check out the City's press release, as well as media coverage in the Philadelphia InquirerAxios Philadelphia, and Philly Voice.


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 lent support to the coalition.