Delaware Right to Representation for Eviction Defense Campaign

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Too often, renters in Delaware are faced with an eviction notice that threatens their homes, their families, and their well-being. Even more often, the people facing eviction are left to navigate that legal hurdle by themselves. In Delaware, 86% of landlords have legal representation in court eviction proceedings, but only 2% of renters have representation. 

Senate Bill 101, (formally SS1 for SB 101,) sponsored by Senator Bryan Townsend and Representative Melissa Minor-Brown, was introduced in 2021. This proposed legislation could be a lifeline for tenants in Delaware — it would offer a more level playing field between landlords and renters by providing representation in eviction proceedings for renters who can’t afford that kind of help, and in turn, could help more landlords receive the money they’re owed by renters who have fallen behind in their financial commitment.

SB 101 was a common-sense bill with a wide range of support in the General Assembly. In 2021, it passed the Senate 13-7. The bill stalled as the General Assembly left session for the year in June 2021. When the legislative session resumed in 2022, the bill was defeated by a House vote of 16-23, with Republicans and several Democrats voting against the bill. 

As Delaware grapples with the effects of an ongoing pandemic and evictions ramp up across the state, renters are facing evictions without the help they desperately need to connect to resources, delay evictions, and stay in their homes. Despite its loss in the 2021-2022 legislative session, our goal remains the same: to pass right-to-representation legislation in 2023, so Delaware can join the growing list of states and cities that are putting protections in place to help keep more people in their homes and reduce rates of homelessness.


Partners on this effort include


Our campaign goals

Through our efforts, we seek to:

  • Pass SB 101: legislation that would implement and fund the right to representation for covered individuals at risk of eviction.
  • Ensure renters are aware of their right to representation in eviction proceedings.
  • Keep at-risk families and renters remaining in their homes during the pandemic and beyond through safeguards like applying for rental assistance and delaying or preventing eviction when possible.

Legislation

SS1 for Senate Bill 101
Sponsored by Senator Bryan Townsend

On May 4, 2021, Senator Bryan Townsend introduced SB 101, a bill to implement a statewide right to representation for tenants facing eviction. This timely legislation provides a statewide right to representation for tenants facing eviction, and establishes protections that will help keep renters in their homes.

What the right to representation legislation does

  1. Creates a right to legal representation for renters facing eviction whose household income is lower than 200% of federal poverty guidelines;
  2. Places coordination of the program within the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, who will contract with appropriate legal service organizations to provide representation in proceedings covered by the bill;
  3. Requires landlords to provide notice of the right to representation at certain designated intervals of a tenancy and in eviction proceedings; and,
  4. Creates an Eviction Diversion Program designed to help resolve payment or other issues once a landlord files for eviction; and
  5. Introduces a post filing mediation program and mandatory referrals to the Delaware Housing Assistance Program (DEHAP), which creates more opportunities for amicable, quick, and satisfactory resolutions of disputes in ways that keep families housed and landlords paid.

More about SB 101

Reports and resources

Public Policy Poll

Right to Representation in Representative District 2

Nationally, communities of color and women — especially Black women — disproportionately face the threat of eviction. In Delaware, representative district 2 (RD 2) is a stark example of these disparities. Residents in RD 2 face high rates of poverty and are among the highest eviction rates in all of Delaware. Our campaign conducted a poll of voters in this district to to learn where they stand on the right to representation. The results from that poll spotlight an alarming reality: in a district where 80% of residents are people of color and 66% of residents rent their homes, 53% of renters have been evicted or know someone who has been evicted.

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Stout Report

The Economic Impact of an Eviction - Right to Counsel in Delaware

Along with community and public health benefits, providing a right to representation promotes substantial cost savings in Delaware. For every dollar invested in a right to representation for low-income renters facing eviction in Delaware, this report conservatively estimates a cost savings to Delaware of at least $2.76.

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Eviction and Legal Representation in Delaware - An Overview

According to this report from the University of Delaware, “the current legal eviction process puts tenants at substantial disadvantage.” Securing renters’ right to representation in evictions would benefit both renters and landlords by facilitating negotiations and reducing the need for formal court hearings.

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Right to Counsel: The Nationwide Movement to Fight the Eviction Crisis

Due to systemic power imbalances, low-income renters are almost always forced to face the eviction process without representation. In major cities across the country, "tenant organizers, legislators, and attorneys are pushing for a right to appointed counsel for renters in eviction cases."

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The Appeal: Voters Support a Right to Counsel for People Facing Eviction

A poll from Data for Progress found that a strong majority of voters want a fairer process in eviction cases.

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The Appeal: How Tenants' Right to Counsel Can End Inequality in the Eviction System - and Save Lives

"Ensuring renters have representation in housing court would help close a “justice gap” and be a life-saving intervention for those at risk of losing their homes." 

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Study from the National Bureau of Economic Research

The Effects of Legal Representation on Tenant Outcomes in Housing Court: Evidence from New York City's Universal Access Program

Housing is one of the areas where it may be most critical for poor people to have access to legal representation in civil cases. This study analyzes the roll-out of New York City’s Universal Access to Counsel program (UA), using detailed address-level housing court data from 2016 to 2019. It finds that tenants who gain access to lawyers are less likely to be subject to possessory judgments, face smaller monetary judgments, and are less likely to have eviction warrants issued against them. Lawyers have larger effects in poorer places and in those with larger shares of non-citizens. UA also reduces executed evictions in these locations. These results support the idea that legal representation in civil procedures can have an important positive impact on the lives of low-income people. 

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