Washington, D.C. — In many eviction cases, tenants are set up to fail. Nationwide, an estimated 90 percent of landlords have legal representation in eviction proceedings, while only 10 percent of tenants do.
While the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants criminal defendants the right to counsel, litigants in civil matters such as eviction cases do not have the same guarantee of legal representation. In “A Right to Counsel Is a Right to a Fighting Chance,” Heidi Schultheis and Caitlin Rooney outline the ways in which a lack of counsel in eviction cases is driving people further into poverty. This problem is especially acute for people of color—particularly Black people—women, households headed by single women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and immigrants, all of whom disproportionally experience poverty and are more likely to need legal counsel.
The issue brief also outlines steps that federal, state, and city policymakers can take to develop and implement a right to counsel in eviction cases. It also highlights three cities—New York, San Francisco, and Newark—which have created successful programs to provide low-income renters with counsel in eviction cases.
“Evictions often have far-reaching consequences beyond the immediate loss of a home,” said Schultheis. “Renters who are evicted face an increased likelihood of losing their jobs, their possessions, and custody of their children. Additionally, having a history of eviction can make it more difficult to secure housing in the future. Tenants with legal representation are much more likely to avoid an eviction and stay in their homes than unrepresented tenants. We urge policymakers to develop programs to guarantee access to legal representation in eviction cases and strengthen tenant protections.”
For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj or 202.495.3682.