As eviction deadline looms, some cities provide free attorneys to renters

By Nate Morabito, WCNC-TV 

With a flood of evictions expected in the coming weeks, renters who can’t afford their own attorneys will represent themselves in court and the odds won’t be in their favor.

“Management companies and landlords are waiting to file evictions on people. We are talking thousands of people,” Action NC Housing Justice Organizer Jessica Moreno said. “When they want to get you out, they’ll get you out. We already know that people that don’t have representation are more likely to lose their case than people that do have representation.” 

While that’s often the reality, other cities have found a solution to give renters a fighting chance. They’ve created new laws that guarantee representation to tenants.

Cleveland, Ohio, became one of the latest cities to pass a law solidifying free legal help. A recent report found the city’s Right to Counsel program helped renters avoid eviction in 93% of cases during its first six months of existence. 

New York City became the first to pass such a law in 2017. In an interview with Sophie House of New York University’s Furman Center, Housing Matters reported legal representation skyrocketed in zip codes covered by the law, with more than 50% of tenants represented. 

Early research suggests evictions greatly declined as a result. Community Service Society reported “evictions declined more than five times faster” in Right to Counsel zip codes.

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This story was produced by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of six media companies working together in an effort started by the Solutions Journalism Network and funded by The Knight Foundation.