A moratorium is currently protecting many renters from evictions, but it’s going to end eventually, and many renters will still owe a backlog of payments. What’s more, the legal process for acquiring protection can be difficult to grasp for some renters. The bottom line is that renters are going to need help understanding their rights — as well as fighting for them in court. I’m sure most everyone is aware of their guaranteed legal right to an attorney if they cannot afford one, but not everyone realizes that only applies in criminal cases. People struggling with evictions don’t have that same guarantee.
Fortunately, the federal COVID-19 relief package has taken that into account. In addition to $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium through January, the most recent package also includes $20 million in legal assistance for renters. The vast majority of landlords can already afford an attorney, so aid to renters is aimed at levelling the playing field. The prediction is that it will do more than that, though. An estimated 92% of renters in Baltimore, Maryland, would win their cases if they had legal counsel, yet only 1% do, compared to 96% of landlords.
This brings us to the next step in helping renters get back on their feet: extending the guarantee of legal counsel to renters facing eviction, which is what the aforementioned city of Baltimore has just decided to do. The city has been given four years to complete implementation of this new requirement. It’s even expected to save the city and state money in the long run by reducing costs elsewhere, such as homeless shelters and foster care. Baltimore was only the most recent city to try this, though. It was first accomplished by New York City in 2017, and similar laws exist in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Newark, New Jersey.