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Delaware changes rule on non-lawyer representation for people facing eviction

Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Supreme Court announced the state will start allowing non-lawyer representation of residential tenants in eviction cases.

Currently landlords are permitted to be represented by non-lawyer agents in eviction proceedings in the Justice of the Peace Court, but tenants are not.

Beginning March 1, non-lawyer, Qualified Tenant Advocates will be permitted to represent residential tenants in eviction cases free of charge.

Qualified Tenant Advocates will be trained by one of Delaware’s three legal aid agencies, and remain under the supervision of a state legal aid lawyer throughout a case.

The advocate may prosecute or defend eviction cases, engage in settlement negotiations, file pleadings and other documents, and appear in the Justice of the Peace Court with the tenant’s consent.

But John Whitelaw, Advocacy Director for the Community Legal Aid Society, says it will be months before the Qualified Tenant Advocates will be in action.

"So sometime between a few months and the end of the year. We do not have a firm timeline. People have to be hired for this so we have to develop a training program, we have to hire staff, we have to train them, and then folks can begin to go to court so it's not going to be a snap your fingers quick process," said Whitelaw

Whitelaw praises the Delaware Supreme Court for taking this step, but adds it isn’t an end all to solve the eviction crisis in Delaware.

ACLU Delaware legal director Susan Burke said this is a good first step toward giving tenants a fair shake.

"The situation to date has been extremely unfair. 86% of landlords having representation in the proceedings 2% of tenants. That is just an extraordinary imbalance and so we really need to work hard on adjusting that and ensuring that no tenant is unrepresented when they are at risk of losing their home," said Burke.

She adds she would like to see more done on this issue and points to Senate Bill 101, which would establish a right to counsel in landlord-tenant cases.

That bill is currently in the Delaware House awaiting action.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.