How to Solve the Housing Crisis: More Lawyers

Cities could save millions of dollars in tax revenue by helping renters fight landlords.

News Story (New York)

Patrick Clark
April 8, 2016

Tags: Civil Right to Counsel, Housing: Eviction, Housing: Landlord-Tenant

Organizations mentioned/involved: Impact Center for Public Interest Law (NY)


U.S. landlords initiate more than 3 million evictions a year, and most are won the moment they’re filed: That’s because property owners can usually afford lawyers, while most renters can’t. In New York City, renters who face eviction usually do so without a lawyer, compared with just 2 percent of landlords who represent themselves, according to a paper published last year in the Connecticut Law Review. It’s about the same all over: In Maryland, 95 percent of tenants argue eviction cases without a lawyer. In Washington, D.C., the figure is 97 percent.

“Tenants who face eviction without counsel simply have no idea what their rights are,” said Andrew Scherer, policy director at the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School. While true of most matters involving litigants who represent themselves, it is acutely the case in an area governed by a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws. Renters can avoid eviction and even win rent cuts if landlords haven’t kept up with repairs. They can also win if landlords missed some procedural steps in filing for eviction, or if they haven’t complied with rules governing affordable apartments.