Mass. residents facing eviction deserve legal representation

The legislature held a hearing in July to review a trio of bills that would enact a right-to-counsel law for certain eligible cases in housing court. A few cities have a similar law, but no other state does — Massachusetts would be the first.

Editorial (Massachusetts)

Boston Globe
November 6, 2019

Tags: Housing: Right to Counsel


More than 90 percent of renters who faced eviction in Massachusetts last year had to represent themselves in housing court, while 70 percent of landlords had a lawyer, according to testimony presented by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute at the hearing. A Globe Magazine story earlier this year laid bare the injustices that result from such disparity in access to legal help in eviction proceedings, particularly as rents continue to climb. In the most recent report of rental markets, Boston ranked third costliest, trailing only New York City and San Francisco.

Perhaps not incidentally, access to court-appointed counsel for low-income tenants is already available in those two cities. New York City implemented a program to provide taxpayer-funded legal representation in eviction court in 2017, becoming the first in the nation. San Francisco followed suit last year through a ballot measure.

The results from the first year of the right-to-counsel program in New York City show that legal help is having an impact: More than 80 percent of renters represented by taxpayer-funded attorneys were able to stay in their homes. The city’s program is being rolled out in phases — currently, 30 percent of eligible tenants have access to lawyers — with citywide implementation by 2022. By then, the measure will have a cost of $155 million a year.