An editorial published in today’s New York Times entitled “Tipping the Scales in Housing Court” describes the inequity that confronts tenants every day in local housing courts across the country. This opinion piece highlights not only the need for good, effective legal representation, but also the fiscal benefits of providing representation to low income tenants.
According to a 2008 D.C. Access to Justice Commission Report, while more than 90 percent of landlords in eviction cases are represented by counsel in the District, only 3 percent of tenants have attorneys. Legal Aid’s Landlord Tenant Court-Based Legal Services Project was created in part to address massive inequality, and so far, in 2012 alone, we have been able to assist well over 200 individuals or families through that project. Unfortunately, that is only a small portion of the more than 36,000 cases filed every year in landlord and tenant court, and a huge number of tenants are forced to navigate the complex laws and procedures of landlord and tenant court on their own.
Because there is no recognized legal right to counsel in landlord and tenant cases, that imbalance is likely to persist, resulting in often unjust outcomes for tenants who simply do not understand, or cannot effectively advocate for, their rights.