Tenants Facing Eviction in Era of Skyrocketing Rents Need Legal Assistance

Without legal assistance, tenants often miss crucial steps and find themselves out of a home.

Op-Ed (California, Florida, Maryland, NATIONAL)

Martha Bergmark
American Prospect, The
September 18, 2014
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Tags: Housing: Landlord-Tenant

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services of Greater Miami (LSGMI), Bay Area Legal Aid (San Francisco), Voices for Civil Justice


Years after we’ve supposedly recovered from the housing crisis, millions of Americans are at risk of losing their homes, and housing is still one of the most troubling aspects of America’s growing inequality problem. The evidence is clear: Rents are rising in cities across the country, and the New York Times reported earlier this month that evictions are soaring nationwide. Tenant-landlord standoffs in U.S. cities are also becoming increasingly common—and bitter.

But despite this bleak overall picture, some tenants are winning eviction battles and ultimately staying in their homes. How? What’s the difference between those who protect their homes and those who are at risk of falling into homelessness? Most often, outcomes depend on one factor: whether tenants have legal help.

Many families that end up in housing court to fight for their homes do so without access to an attorney. This trend is deeply troubling, because research shows how critical it is to have legal help in housing disputes: Two-thirds of low-income tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are able to stay in their homes, compared to one third of unrepresented tenants.

To deal with the flood of new eviction cases, civil legal aid groups across the country are adopting powerful new advocacy strategies to defend tenants. How exactly you fight an eviction is a complex process that varies state by state. Without the legal assistance, tenants often miss crucial steps and find themselves out of a home. For example, at Legal Services of Greater Miami’s Tenants’ Rights Project, a dedicated team of attorneys represents tenants who desperately need legal assistance—especially those in subsidized and public housing, who are among the most vulnerable. In Marin City, California, Bay Area Legal Aid was part of a coalition that successfully fought off efforts to make truancy grounds for evictions from public housing—a transparent attempt to criminalize the poorest members of our society in one of America’s wealthiest in cities.