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May 09, 2019

Philadelphia Bar Association Applauds Philadelphia City Council’s Proposed Civil Right-to-Counsel Ordinance

Ordinance Would Provide Right-to-Counsel for Eligible Tenants Facing Eviction

Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rochelle M. Fedullo today joined Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large), and other community legal organizations and Philadelphians, at a press conference at City Hall. During the press conference, Councilmember Gym announced the introduction of “Right to Counsel” legislation to expand access to legal representation for Philadelphians facing eviction. Fedullo applauded Gym for her legislation calling it a “significant step forward.”

“The Philadelphia Bar Association applauds Councilmember Gym for her leadership in expanding access to legal representation for eligible tenants facing eviction in Philadelphia,” said Fedullo. “As the Philadelphia Bar Association’s groundbreaking 2018 Stout report found, providing access to legal counsel is one of the most effective measures to prevent the burdensome financial and human costs to our city resulting from evictions and homelessness.”

“Our city is facing an eviction crisis that destabilizes families and put significant stress on our people, our schools, and our city services. Although this crisis impacts every corner of our city, it does hurt some communities more than others: People of color, single mothers, black women, disabled folks, and seniors suffer the most,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “As the poorest big city, the cost of representation is out of reach for too many Philadelphia residents. 81% of landlords attend court with legal representation, while only 8% renters have a lawyer to advocate for them.

"The good news is that we can fix this with investments in what works: Legal representation for folks who need it. My bill sets a basic standard to balance the scales between landlords and renters, and ensure that more families stay in their homes.”

Fedullo highlighted the Bar Association’s Stout report that found that an annual investment of $3.5 million in legal representation would save the city $45.2 million annually. Stout determined that unrepresented tenants are disruptively displaced due to eviction in approximately 78% of cases, as compared with represented tenants, who are disruptively displaced due to eviction in only approximately 5% of cases. By being represented, approximately 14,418 low-income individuals each year would avoid being disruptively displaced.

The ordinance will add a new section titled “Legal Representation in Landlord Tenant Court” to the “Landlord and Tenant” chapter of The Philadelphia Code. Eligible tenants facing eviction will be able to receive legal services from a city-designated legal services provider that can provide free legal representation. These designated legal service providers also will work with city-designated organizations and community groups to educate tenants about their rights and available resources.

Councilmember Gym’s legislation, if passed, would bring Philadelphia into the national movement around right to counsel. New York City, San Francisco and Newark, New Jersey have adopted similar laws, and plans are underway in other cities to provide eligible tenants with access to legal representation in landlord-tenant cases.

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