Delaware becomes fourth state to provide right to representation for renters facing eviction.
DOVER— Today, the Delaware General Assembly passed historic legislation ensuring low-income renters a right to representation in eviction actions, making Delaware only the fourth state in the nation to provide this important right to renters in both public and private housing.
The legislation, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1 (SS1 for SB 1), introduced by Sen. Bryan Townsend, guarantees representation for renters facing eviction whose household income is lower than 200% of federal poverty guidelines. It also creates an eviction diversion program designed to help resolve payment or other issues after a landlord files for eviction, enabling more Delaware families to remain in their homes.
This victory, celebrated by a broad coalition of Delaware housing advocates, comes as renters across the state face a critical shortage of affordable housing and rising eviction rates, which are quickly approaching pre-pandemic levels.
“A right to representation gives renters a fighting chance at keeping safe and stable housing long-term — a fundamental human need for every person,” says Javonne Rich, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the ACLU of Delaware, “This is a housing justice issue, a racial justice issue, and an economic justice issue.”
Until now, only 2% of renters have had representation in court eviction proceedings compared to 86% of landlords. Lack of representation disproportionately impacts communities of color and those who lack the ability to go to court due to employment, childcare, or transportation restrictions. The damaging long-term effects of eviction include poorer physical and mental health, increased risk of homelessness and loss of employment, and greater difficulty finding future housing.
“It is hard to overstate the importance of the passage of this bill,” says Daniel Atkins, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. “Until now, Delaware had one of the five highest eviction rates in the country. Once this bill is fully implemented, more families will have a fair shot at avoiding eviction and homelessness, and cases will be resolved more quickly, amicably, and efficiently. Guaranteed representation benefits everyone — the courts, landlords, families, and low-income communities most affected by evictions. We look forward to ensuring that this initiative is implemented effectively.”
“By passing this legislation, the General Assembly will make housing more stable for hundreds of Delaware families who otherwise would have been unfairly evicted based entirely on their inability to afford adequate legal counsel,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, the prime sponsor of SS 1 for SB 1. “Helping those families stay in their homes will help parents stay employed, help children stay in school, and reduce the costs that ripple across our economy, our healthcare system and our courts. I want to thank the housing advocates who worked tirelessly over the last two years to get this bill through the Legislature and on to Governor John Carney for his signature.”
“Facing the loss of your home is a traumatic event that can have devastating impacts on families and individuals. The impact of this type of disruption can last a lifetime and lead to costs that ripple through our economy, our health care and criminal justice systems, and our society,” said House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown. “Given the current state of housing in Delaware, residents deserve fair representation in these matters. SB 1 is a bold step to ensure that those facing eviction who most need a fair hearing get that representation to ensure their voices are heard and their concerns are raised. I’m grateful to everyone who worked to make this a strong, fair bill that will help keep a roof over people’s heads.”
The Delaware Right to Representation for Eviction Defense Coalition, a statewide partnership of organizations and advocates, has been working with lawmakers to pass this legislation since it was first introduced by Sen. Townsend in 2021. The bill passed the Senate that year, but it failed to pass the House in 2022.
Sen. Townsend introduced the current bill in January 2023, with additional sponsorship from Sen. Kyra Hoffner and Sen. Marie Pinkney in the Senate, and Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, Rep. Kendra Johnson, Rep. Larry Lambert, and Rep. William Bush in the House.
Delaware joins three other states—Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington— in passing right to representation legislation, and fifteen cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland, New York City, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Minnesota also passed a limited right to representation bill in May.
Housing advocates and coalition partners are grateful to Sen. Townsend and Rep. Minor-Brown for their leadership, and to Gov. John Carney for his vocal support of SS 1 for SB 1, which included recommended funding for a right to representation in his FY 2024 budget. We also thank each lawmaker who sponsored and voted for this bill, and all of the renters, community partners, and government officials who testified in support.
SS 1 for SB 1 now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature. Following a signature, this legislation will be phased in over a three year period.
The Delaware Right to Representation for Eviction Defense Coalition includes the following members and supporters of SS1 for SB1:
- American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware
- Black Mothers in Power Delaware
- Children & Families First
- Christiana Care
- Community Legal Aid Society, Inc.
- Delaware Affordable Housing Coalition
- Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence
- Delaware Continuum of Care
- Delaware Division Public Health
- Delaware Federation of Housing Counselors
- Delaware National Organization for Women
- Delaware Poor People’s Campaign
- Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative
- Delaware State Human Relations Commission
- Delaware Volunteer Legal Services
- Family Promise of Northern New Castle County
- Healthy Communities Delaware
- HerStory Ensemble LLC
- H.O.M.E.S Campaign Delaware
- Housing Alliance Delaware
- Jewish Family Services of Delaware
- Lutheran Community Services
- Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League
- NeighborGood Partners
- Network Delaware
- Office of New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer
- Office of Defense Services
- Peace and Justice Group of Westminster Presbyterian Church
- Southern Delaware Alliance for Social Justice
- Unitarian Universalist Delaware Advocacy Network
- United Way of Delaware
- University of Delaware Center for Community Research & Service
- Women’s March Sussex
- YWCA Delaware