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from Lakewood council considers guaranteeing attorney representation for residents facing eviction

Posted April 6, 2022
10:37 am

By John Benson, special to

LAKEWOOD, Ohio -- City Council President Daniel J. O’Malley and Council-Representative-at-Large Tristan Rader jointly introduced an ordinance at Monday’s council meeting (April 4) involving residents facing eviction.

Inspired by Cleveland’s Right to Counsel law, the proposed legislation would guarantee individuals and families living at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, as well as seniors and the disabled, the right to an attorney when faced with eviction.

“A common misconception among people in this country is that you have a right to a lawyer any time you find yourself in court,” O’Malley said. “That is not true. You have a right to a lawyer if you’re facing criminal charges where jail time is possible.

“We have a lot of people who, unfortunately, are at risk of losing their homes -- homes for their families and children -- who require legal counsel,” he said.

“You shouldn’t be at risk of losing your home just because you can’t afford to hire someone who can counsel you about the law. This will provide the right to an attorney, assuming you qualify based on income, to anybody who is facing eviction in the city.”

Rader noted that there is an imbalance of power when it comes to eviction cases.

“Landlords often have counsel and tenants almost always do not, mainly as they cannot afford that expense,” Rader said. “Ensuring that tenants have a right to representation puts them on an equal footing with landlords.

“We need to guarantee that our most vulnerable residents get the representation they need when faced with eviction so that the law can be applied most evenly.”

In 2021, there were 515 evictions in the city of Lakewood. Looking ahead over the next year, Rader said the city can expect roughly 600 eviction cases to be filed.

“More than half of these cases will likely meet the criteria to qualify under this proposed legislation for legal assistance,” Rader said.

The proposed ordinance calls for the use of $550,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as seed money to get the eviction lawyer program off its feet for the first two years before finding other sustainable funding sources.

The city would partner with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, a flagship organization that provides legal counsel to low-income clients, to administer the program.

“This will help the efficiency of the court,” O’Malley said. “It’ll be a net benefit to taxpayers, because you’re not going to have the eviction docket nearly as clogged up with pro se defendants when everybody has an attorney and can hopefully work out solutions outside of court. I think it’s a win for everybody.

“By the way, I had several attorneys who represent landlords praise this. One attorney told me I’d much rather be dealing with another lawyer than an indigent pro se defendant. It would just make things a lot smoother and have better outcomes, hopefully for everyone involved.”

As far as the eviction ordinance passing, O’Malley is optimistic.

“Council colleagues in preliminary conversations have been supportive, but, of course, will be eager to share the details, have hearings and also hear from our residents on this,” O’Malley said.

Rader added, “I hope that we can have this program up and running this year.”


Original story can be found at Lakewood council considers guaranteeing attorney representation for residents facing eviction

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