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Bill to provide right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases awaits action in State House

Delaware Public Media

Lawmakers are considering a bill that seeks to even the playing field for some tenants in eviction cases.

Senate Bill 101 would establish a right to counsel in landlord-tenant cases for households below 200% of the federal poverty line.

The legislation would also bar eviction filings where less than $500 is owed, and it would create a residential diversion program.

In many cases tenants facing eviction can’t afford counsel, and they’re at a disadvantage in eviction cases.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) said this is for good tenants who have hit tough times financially keeping them from paying rent.

"This is not about protecting bad tenants, people who are causing harm to the unit, people who never pay their rent. This isn't about that. This is about the people who are reliable tenants that have fallen on some tough times or have other kinds of reasons why an eviction doesn't make sense right now,” said Townsend. “And data has shown from other states it truly can be a win-win for tenants and for landlords to try to have more stability in the housing market."

Those who would qualify for the right to counsel would be represented free of charge.

Townsend notes this bill is important because housing is an essential part that keeps an economy prosperous, keeping health stable, and keeping public safety stable.

He says another reason this legislation is important is because in many cases tenants face eviction without representation.

"And the outcomes are just so different. If you have legal counsel you're so much more likely to stay in your home, get on a repayment plan, transfer to another unit of housing that might fit your economic capabilities more. Better outcomes happen when both sides are represented, not just one side represented," said Townsend.

SB 101 has passed the Senate, and is awaiting a House committee hearing.

The Delaware Supreme Courttook a step toward addressing this issue last week - announcing the state will start allowing non-lawyer representation of residential tenants in eviction cases next month.

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.
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