Free legal help available to some low-income tenants in Philadelphia

the notice of eviction of tenants hangs on the door of the house
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Some Philadelphia families who are in danger of being evicted now have access to free legal representation.

Thanks to the Right to Counsel legislation passed by City Council, low-income renters in the city’s 19139 and 19121 ZIP codes are now entitled to free legal representation if they are facing eviction.

“Often times, renters don’t know their rights, and can easily find themselves evicted from their apartment or home,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke in a statement. “The Right to Counsel law is designed to provide them with badly-needed legal representation, to ensure their rights are protected and to safeguard their ability to remain in their home. This is an important reform.”

Legal representation and support will be provided by Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center, Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Philly VIP, and Tenant Union Representative Network. To access Right to Counsel, tenants can call the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500.

Right to Counsel builds on a network of resources for Philadelphia tenants facing eviction, including the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project and the Eviction Diversion Program. Right to Counsel services are funded through the City’s Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project budget.

“Housing is a fundamental human right… Philadelphia is taking a key step forward in enshrining that right for our city’s renters,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “This program will save thousands of families from enduring the hardship and trauma of an eviction, which disproportionately impacts Black renters, women, and caregivers.

“In what was once the fourth highest evicting city in the nation, we are proving to the world that we can prevent poverty-based evictions,” Gym added. “I am thankful to an entire movement of housing justice advocates and to our city agencies and their partners who made this not only possible, but a priority of our city.”

Right to Counsel initially launched in ZIP codes 19139 and 19121. These areas were selected in consultation with the Reinvestment Fund and based on overall number of evictions, rate of evictions, and proportion of families living in poverty. Right to Counsel will expand to additional ZIP codes in each year that additional funding becomes available.

Individuals with income at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for Right to Counsel, provided they live in one of the covered ZIP codes. Immigration status does not affect eligibility.

Eligible renters have a Right to Counsel when facing eviction proceedings; lease or other tenancy termination proceedings; and PHA housing subsidy termination proceedings. In those circumstances, Right to Counsel is available for judicial proceedings (e.g., in Municipal Court), and administrative proceedings (e.g., in front of the Fair Housing Commission).

“Right to Counsel is a major step to leveling the playing field for Philadelphia tenants facing loss of their homes by eviction,” said Kadeem Morris, Supervising Attorney for Community Legal Services. “While 87 percent of Philadelphia landlords have access to an attorney, only 16 percent of renters do. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the impact of evictions, which destabilize households and can lead to displacement, job loss, and mental and physical health impacts for adults and children.”

The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, established in 2018, will continue to provide information, legal advice, and potential legal representation to tenants citywide. Tenants can go to phillytenant.org or call the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500 to access both Right to Counsel and Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project services.

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