Right to an Attorney? Most Tenants Face Landlords Without One.

But a handful of cities are starting to provide counsel in civil court.

News Story (NATIONAL)

J. Brian Charles
June 1, 2019

Tags: Housing: Eviction, Housing: Right to Counsel

Organizations mentioned/involved: Public Justice Center (PJC), Equal Justice Works (DC)


In the dozens of evictions that moved through the Richmond courthouse on April 11, none of the tenants who appeared had an attorney. That is indicative of the eviction process across the nation, says David Stern, executive director of Equal Justice Works. Only one in 10 tenants comes to court with an attorney. Landlords, meanwhile, almost always have legal representation. And while the lawyers can jockey for the best interests of their clients, and all of them understand court procedures, renters in eviction courts seldom understand the rules. According to the National Center for State Courts, plaintiffs in a wide variety of civil cases are twice as likely to win when only their side is represented by an attorney as they are when there is counsel on both sides. “The plaintiff’s lawyer, when unopposed, will introduce hearsay and do other objectionable things in court the defendant doesn’t know to object to,” says John Pollock, coordinator for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.