by Salmun Kazerounian and Sarah White

The Center has endorsed a campaign to make Connecticut the first state to guarantee tenants legal representation in evictions. Nationally, eight cities have created a right to counsel for tenants, two other states are on the verge of creating statewide programs, and many more are considering it as we face an eviction crisis of epic proportions. 

H.B. 6531, which would create a right to counsel for tenants in evictions in Connecticut, passed the Housing Committee in March following a public hearing showing broad community support for the bill. Governor Lamont and the legislature now have a historic opportunity to use federal relief money to fund the right to counsel program through the end of 2024.

Jurisdictions that have passed right to counsel have seen extraordinary results. In New York City—the first jurisdiction to pass right to counsel—86% of tenants facing evictions who receive representation stayed in their homes. Cleveland, which just implemented a right to counsel, found that 93% of evictions were prevented in just the first 6 months. San Francisco experienced a 10% reduction in eviction filings in the first year, before the program was even fully implemented, with 67% of represented tenants staying in their homes. 

The Center’s analysis of eviction records in Connecticut from 2019 supports that we will likely see similar reductions in evictions and forced displacement if Connecticut guarantees legal representation to tenants. 

In 2019, fewer than 7% of residential tenants had legal representation in their eviction cases, compared to more than 80% of landlords. Our estimate is that the number of Black and Latinx tenants with legal representation is even smaller–just 5% of Black and Latinx residential tenants had lawyers.

Legal representation dramatically reduced the likelihood that the court would issue an execution–the final order that permits a marshal to remove a tenant. 44% of residential eviction cases in which the tenant did not have counsel resulted in the court’s issuance of an execution. That is compared to only 21% of cases in which tenants had counse

These results suggest that, with counsel, tenants are less than half as likely to be forcibly removed from their homes by a marshal. The likelihood of a residential eviction case being withdrawn also more than doubled when tenants had counsel.

Legal representation also improved the results of mediation. When the tenant was unrepresented in mediation and entered into a stipulated judgment, an execution was still issued 38% of the time. When the tenants had a lawyer and entered into a stipulated judgment, an execution was issued just 2.9% of the time. This suggests that stipulations entered into by tenants with legal representation are much more likely to be successful and to end in reinstatement, meaning the tenant gets to stay in their home and avoids eviction. Everyone benefits when tenants have legal representation.   

Connecticut can fund a right to counsel program for tenants for three and a half years using a tiny fraction of the more than $2.6 billion dollars in federal relief money it will receive under the American Rescue Plan act.  And over time, the state will save money 2 to 12 times greater than its investment, including in shelter costs, emergency services, and the other collateral costs of eviction and homelessness.

You can add your voice to ours in urging Governor Lamont and the legislature to pass H.B. 6531 and fund a right to counsel program for tenants. Find out how here.