Today’s Read: How Legal Odds Are Stacked Against the Evicted

The housing affordability crisis has pushed countless people to the brink of homelessness. Many tenants are left to navigate the daunting eviction process and housing court system on their own, facing off against landlords who are almost always represented by attorneys. Due to the inadequate supply of affordable housing and this judicial imbalance, housing court is often the last stop before a family enters a shelter for homeless people.

In an effort to level the playing field in housing court, last year New York City passed groundbreaking legislation to become the first city in the country to guarantee legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction. Coalition for the Homeless is monitoring the five-year phase-in of the program through our work with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. For the latest information about implementation, and for details on whether you might be eligible for free legal help in housing court, please visit the Right to Counsel website.

Matt Krupnick wrote about New York City’s new right to counsel law– and the potential for it to be replicated in other cities across the country – for The Guardian:

“In housing court, it makes a tremendous difference,” said John Pollock, a Baltimore attorney who leads the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. “When you introduce a defendant’s attorney to the process, it changes the expectations.”

[Bronx resident Areletha] McLain’s attorney, Carmine Annunziato, said more than 80% of his evicted clients have been able to return home. The difference between housing court defendants with and without attorneys is “night and day”, he said.

“People don’t know their rights,” he said. “They’ll sign anything.”

It’s easy to think of eviction as being simply the result of unpaid rent, and that is certainly true in some cases. But the issue is far more complex.

Some tenants refuse to pay rent because of unheeded repair requests, leading landlords to evict them rather than solving the problems. Others, including McLain, are caught up in the confusion of ownership changes – in McLain’s case, she says she paid a brokerage that dissolved, taking her money with it.