Tenants in the city of Baltimore now have a legal right to counsel in eviction cases, making the city just the seventh jurisdiction in the country to guarantee renters that right.
Advocates and officials alike say the legislation, which was signed by Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) on Wednesday, will give tenants a better chance of keeping their home during eviction cases.
“When people show up to court with representation, they achieve outcomes that are more fair and equitable,” Council President and Mayor-elect Brandon Scott (D) said in a release.
The legislation requires the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development to contract with nonprofit legal services to represent tenants during evictions, and will be implemented over the next four years.
Advocates from Baltimore Renters United estimate the right to counsel in eviction cases will cost the city $6.8 million to implement, and might be paid for with “general funds, federal-pass through funds, state funds and/or the City’s trust fund,” according to a release. They say preventing evictions and helping residents avoid homelessness would save the city and state money in the long run, to the tune of $35.6 million.
One recent study of eviction cases in Baltimore by the Chicago-based consulting firm Stout found that tenants with legal representation are more likely to avoid “disruptive displacement.” But while Stout found that 96% of landlords have legal representation during eviction cases in Baltimore, just 1% of tenants do.
“So many people we work with are scared to make demands on their landlord because the landlord may retaliate with an eviction action,” Tiffany Ralph, secretary of the Bolton House Residents Association said in a release. “Right to counsel gives support to residents who stand up for their right to live in safe, healthy housing.”
Other jurisdictions that have given tenants the right to an attorney during eviction cases include New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Cleveland.