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Cleveland City Council introduces legislation to create a right to counsel in housing court; first city in Ohio and the Midwest.



Written by The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland on 8/21/2019

Asserting “lack of legal counsel for tenants during eviction cases is a violation of a basic human right,” Cleveland City Council today introduced legislation to create a right to counsel in eviction cases in Cleveland Housing Court.

The legislation will provide legal representation to households facing eviction that include children and are below 100% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Under the leadership of Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Tony Brancatelli, United Way of Greater Cleveland will develop and implement this landmark right in partnership with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Our constitution ensures access to no-cost legal counsel when someone is accused of a serious crime and cannot afford an attorney. No similar constitutional right to legal counsel exists for tenants in eviction cases — even if losing the case would lead to homelessness.

“The Housing Justice Alliance will tip the scales for those who cannot afford a lawyer when their homes are at risk,” says Colleen Cotter, Esq., Legal Aid’s Executive Director.  “By establishing a right to free, high-quality legal representation, we can secure safe, affordable, and stable housing for Cleveland families living in poverty.”

A safe, stable home serves as a foundation for healthy families and is the nexus of thriving communities. Yet, too many Cleveland families living in poverty are being evicted. There are an estimated 20,000 evictions in Cuyahoga County annually.  In Cleveland, where about 9,000 evictions filed are filed each year, only 1% -2% of tenants facing eviction are represented by an attorney. Most landlords have a lawyer.

Thanks to the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland’s Innovation Mission, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland began to examine the efficacy of a right to counsel in Cleveland in 2018.  From this platform, the Housing Justice Alliance was created. The Alliance is led by Legal Aid attorney Hazel Remesch and an advisory committee which includes low-income community members, representatives from the bar, and city leaders — including Council President Kelley and Council Member Brancatelli.

Studies show that tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes and save on rent or fees. In the summer of 2017, New York City became the first U.S. city to pass historic “right to counsel” legislation, guaranteeing that tenants under 200% of federal poverty guidelines who face eviction have access to legal representation. As a result, New York City is expected to gain a net savings of $320 million annually. In the first year since the law’s implementation, 84% of households represented in court by lawyers avoided displacement.

Cleveland’s introduction of legislation for a right to counsel in eviction cases aims to help many Cleveland families overcome barriers to employment, economic opportunity, and educational success. Some evictions will not be avoided, of course; many evictions are unavoidable.  However, this new legislation will ensure a significant number of low-income people who should not be evicted will not be, and that those who need to move can do so with a soft landing.

For more information, visit www.HousingJusticeAlliance.org.

Media inquiries can be directed to Melanie Shakarian, Esq. at melanie.shakarian@lasclev.org or 216-215-0074.

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