Judge's Table

RIGHT TO COUNSEL

Every eviction is an act of violence. Tenants deserve access to legal representation so that they can keep their home.

Over half of Wilmingtonians are now renters, and more than half of them are already cost-burdened, spending over a third of their income on housing. Tenant advocates across the country have warned in the last few years that the nation is facing an eviction epidemic, created in part by escalating housing costs, diminishing numbers of affordable units, stagnating wages, and an aging supply of homes.

 
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A HOUSING JUSTICE CAMPAIGN FOR RENTERS IN DELAWARE

All Delawareans— regardless of their circumstances or background — should have safe and stable housing.

Delaware has an opportunity to secure the right to counsel for eviction defense statewide.

Safe, stable housing is a fundamental human need. 

Right to counsel is critical to fighting evictions during the pandemic and beyond. 

 

Watch this video to hear why Don Farrell, a local Delaware landlord, supports a tenant's Right to Counsel.

 

COVID-19 HAS EXACERBATED THE EVICTION CRISIS

The public health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have cost millions of people their jobs and the ability to pay rent — leaving far too many renters facing the added threat of eviction and losing their homes.

  

 

The patchwork of responses, including various federal, state and local eviction moratoriums, have yet to slow down the eviction crisis.

Even before the pandemic, about 18,000 eviction cases per year were filed in Delaware. Since then, the impacts of the pandemic have caused a huge increase in unemployment, making rent even harder to pay.

Stimulus money exists to pay every landlord for the money that accrued unpaid during the pandemic. However, many landlords are not participating, and will seek to evict their tenants instead. Those tenants need help.

Eviction moratoriums will be lifted sometime in the near future, possibly as soon as July 1, and Delaware needs to have help in place to ensure tenants can remain housed, both now and in the future.

 

EVICTION COURT PROCEEDINGS ARE SKEWED TO FAVOR LANDLORDS

Eviction proceedings historically have been unfair and imbalanced. In Delaware, 86% of landlords have representation from attorneys or agents in court, but only 2% of tenants have representation.


This isn’t surprising considering many tenants are facing eviction because of unforeseen circumstances or financial stress that prevents them from being able to afford their rent, let alone counsel to represent them in court. Others facing eviction lack the ability to go to court due to employment, child care, or transportation restrictions.  

 

University of Delaware

Center for Community Research & Service

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Tenants have few options for legal aid and legal services programs, and legal aid has always been underfunded. Any defenses that are available to a tenant are virtually impossible to prove without the aid of a lawyer.

As a result, tenants default at high rates. This systematically sets up tenants to fail, forcing them to leave their homes and leaving them to deal with the devastating, long-lasting impacts of eviction.

About 30% of tenants feel so powerless to fight an eviction that they don't even show up for court, and instead, a default judgment is entered against them. This means they lose their housing even though there may be funding available to help with rent or they may have a valid defense against eviction.

This is why representation in eviction cases matters. When tenants are represented by counsel, they are twice as likely to remain housed.

 

RIGHT TO COUNSEL IS KEY TO FIGHTING EVICTIONS

Securing tenants’ right to counsel is a critical step Delaware legislators can take to stop evictions and keep people in their homes during the pandemic and beyond.

Right to counsel measures ensure that tenants who are facing the complex process of an eviction proceeding are guaranteed legal representation — giving tenants a fair chance to access legal protections and stay in their homes.

 

Attorneys can help tenants apply for rental assistance, ensure that courts do not proceed with an eviction while such applications are pending, and address situations where landlords refuse to accept the rental assistance.

Right to counsel measures for tenants in eviction proceedings have been enacted in eight cities to date: New York City, San Francisco, Newark, N.J., Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boulder, Colo. Baltimore, and Seattle. And These measures work.

Additionally, statewide right to counsel legislation is pending in eight states, including Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and South Carolina.

Overall, represented tenants are twice as likely to remain in their homes as unrepresented tenants. Represented tenants are overall dramatically less likely to lose by default. Providing a right to counsel allows people and families to keep their homes and communities, and in the time of a pandemic, promotes public health.

 
RTC Fact Sheet
 

EVICTIONS ARE A RACIAL AND GENDER JUSTICE ISSUE

Evictions are a racial justice, gender justice, and human rights issue. Nationally, communities of color and women—especially Black women—disproportionately face the threat of eviction.

 

On average, Black renters have evictions filed against them at nearly twice the rate of white renters. Those disparities are often worse for Black women, who face the greatest risk of having an eviction filed against them. Black women are more than twice as likely to have evictions filed against them as white people.

Less than half of Black and Latinx families own their homes compared to 73 percent of white families. Black and Latinx tenants are also twice as likely as white tenants to report that they have little to no ability to make rent each month. Longstanding systemic income and wealth inequities also put communities of color and women at higher risk of eviction.

Evictions will have lasting impacts on these communities, due to tenant blacklisting and the long-term economic harms of eviction. Eviction exacerbates and reproduces conditions of economic inequality for women of color and communities of color.

62% of Latinx renters, 60% of Black renters and 48% of white renters are "cost-burdened" by their rents (Prosperity Now Report, The People’s Report, Pace of Progress 2020).

In 2016, Wilmington, which has one of the largest Black populations in the state, recorded 1,238 evictions, or about 3 per day. (Eviction Lab, a national research group).

24 available and affordable rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-Income renter households in Delaware.

 
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WHAT THE RTC LEGISLATION DOES

 

This legislation would create a right to legal counsel for evictions for covered individuals, subject to a 3 year phase-in period. It covers tenants whose household income is not greater than 200% of federal poverty guidelines. 

The bill places coordination of the program within the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, who will contract with appropriate legal services providers to provide representation in proceedings covered by the bill.

It requires landlords to provide notice of the right to counsel at certain designated intervals of a tenancy and in eviction proceedings.

It will also create an Eviction Diversion Program designed to help resolve payment or other issues prior to a landlord filing for eviction. This program is modeled on the Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program.

It prohibits landlords from filing for eviction unless the tenant owes at least one month's rent or $500—whichever is greater—and prohibits landlords from continuing an eviction action if tenant pays all rent due.

Currently in Delaware, there is no minimum amount of money that needs to be in dispute for a landlord to file an eviction action. There have been some eviction cases filed over less than $1 in rent owed. Right to counsel legislation can change this. 

The right to counsel bill allows tenants to stay in their home if they pay all back rent, fees and costs prior to an eviction.

Additionally, it provides COVID-19 specific relief for certain tenants whose evictions were stayed "in the interests of justice" during the pandemic, per Governor Carney's Emergency Declaration.

 
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CONTACT THE H.O.M.E.S. CAMPAIGN

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