All about Philadelphia's work to establish a right to counsel in eviction cases

05/09/2019, Legislation, Housing - Evictions

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.

 

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 steps 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 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, philly.com (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.

 

Background

 

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.