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.
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.
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.
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.
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.