Massachusetts considers tenant right to counsel
02/12/2023, Legislation, Housing - Evictions
UPDATE: bills refiled in 2023; statewide coalition grows
Massachusetts House and Senate bills have been filed to provide a right to counsel for tenants, as well as owner-occupants of a 1-3 unit building. The Access to Counsel Coalition, which is comprised of over a hundred groups statewide, submitted a letter to the Governor urging her to put $7 million in the budget towards phase one of a statewide right to ocunsel.
UPDATE: right to counsel bills re-filed in 2021
HB 1436 and SB 874 are the 2021 versions of the statewide tenant right to counsel bills.
UPDATE: report finds right to counsel would save money
A new Massachusetts report by the Analysis Group finds that “full legal representation in eviction cases would cost the Commonwealth $26.29 million, while the cost savings associated with such representationare estimated to be $63.02 million.”
UPDATE: Major endorsements flow for right to counsel bill
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants has endorsed the eviction right to counsel bill. The Human Rights at Home Blog has more.
The Boston Globe Editorial Board has done so as well, saying that "The right to a court-appointed lawyer would level the playing field and offer [tenants] a better chance of success at staying in their homes."
In an article in the Boston Globe, the City of Boston Chief of Housing, said, "We really need to pass right to counsel. That would change a lot of things.” The Mayor himself released his action plan for evictions, which includes passage of the right to counsel bill the Mayor caused to be filed at the state level in Massachusetts.
UPDATE: Brockton Enterprise reports on bill status
The Brockton Enterprise gave an update on advocacy around the Massachusetts right to counsel bills, inclduing some comments from legislators in both chambers.
UPDATE: Bills get public hearing, city support
On July 16, 2019, the Massachusetts Joint Judiciary Committee held a standing-room-only public hearing on the eviction right to counsel bills. Among those who testified in support of the bills was Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. The NCCRC submitted testimony as well. Masslive has more about the public hearing.
Additionally, the City of Northampton passed a resolution in support of the bills.
UPDATE: bills introduced, right to counsel campaign launched!
Three bills have been filed to provide a statewide right to counsel in eviction proceedings: H.1537, H.3456, and S.913.
Advocates in Massachusetts have launched a campaign to enact a right to counsel in eviction proceedings, and have just released a campaign website. The campaign has received media coverage from WGBH, Curbed, and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. There was also a follow-up piece from WGBH that put the right to counsel in context of Boston's sky-high rents and unven court playing field.
In January 2017, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced a 5-bill package to be submitted to the State Legislature to help with tenant displacement. One of the bills, An Act to Promote Homelessness Prevention in Massachusetts, would require a court to appoint the public defender to represent indigent tenants in eviction proceedings. The Mayor’s Announcement notes that "Currently, only seven percent of tenants brought to Boston Housing Court receive some type of legal assistance while a majority of landlords have representation.” WBUR in Boston has more.
The housing right to counsel bill was filed as HB 968 and SB 831. Another bill, HB 3589 by Rep. Rogers, would establish a similar right.
For more information, check out the webpage of the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition.
The NCCRC has supported the efforts of the statewide coalition.