If you're a tenant facing eviction proceedings, you may soon have the chance to say, "I have the right to a lawyer!"
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Board President London Breed have announced legislation that would give renters the right to have an attorney when fighting eviction cases.
The program, known as "Right to Counsel," would be a huge expansion in legal tenant protection. Currently, only people in criminal cases are guaranteed the right to court-appointed legal counsel. That ability has never been granted in civil cases, such as evictions.
"On any given day, I have constituents coming to my office looking for [legal] assistance," said Board President Breed. "It's frustrating that as Supervisor you can only refer people to a small pool of resources, or pro-bono attorneys."
In 2012, Assemblymember David Chiu (then-Supervisor) created the pilot program for "Civil Right to Counsel". But the program was not permanently funded, and was run through various non-profit organizations in the City. In 2014, the pilot program served 600 residents and saved the City up to $1.1 million in homeless services. Sheehy and Breed's legislation would expand the program to become permanent.
Massachusetts has run pilot programs in Civil Right to Counsel since 2006. Sheehy noted: "For every dollar they spent on tenant protection, they saved four dollars in homeless services. Keeping people in their homes is better than having people on the street."
"This is a common-sense measure would provide immediate relief for our most vulnerable—seniors, people with HIV/AIDS and longtime residents,” Supervisor Sheehy argued. "This is a meaningful way to protect tenants through legal representation."
There is currently a proposed 2018 ballot measure that would similarly give tenants the right to civil counsel, filed by neighborhood activist Jon Golinger. Ballot measure supporters have complained that Sheehy did not collaborate with them when proposing his own initiative.
Supervisor Sheehy pushed back on those complaints, arguing that the legislation was more expansive than the ballot measure. "One of the things that is not in [the ballot measure] is protections for domestic violence victims. I do applaud the people who have been working on the ballot measure; I'm hoping we can have a collaborative relationship. This way [through legislation], we can have the best piece of legislation that offers the most protection."
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