The Case for a Right to Counsel in Housing Court

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Executive Summary

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically and ominously shifted the scale of the eviction crisis in the United States. Short of extensive, multipronged legislative action, estimates suggest that anywhere from 19 to 23 million renters (or 11 million renter households) are at risk of eviction between summer and fall 2020. Congress must take immediate action to address the eviction crisis by providing states and localities with the resources needed to ensure that individuals receive full legal representation in housing court.

With no constitutionally guaranteed right to representation in U.S. civil courts, roughly 90% of tenants do not have lawyers, and face striking disadvantages as they navigate complex housing courts. Guaranteeing legal representation to individuals facing eviction is one way to address the most imminent need. There is strong bipartisan support for increasing legal protections to prevent evictions: Polling by Data for Progress shows that 60% of likely voters support increased funding for legal services to prevent evictions. And 59% of likely voters support, while only 19% oppose, a right to counsel in eviction cases.