Following the success of initial rollout, low-income tenants in 19134 and 19144 zip codes are now guaranteed legal representation when facing eviction
PHILADELPHIA – Starting February 1, 2023, low-income renters in Philadelphia zip codes 19134 and 19144 are entitled to free legal representation if they are facing eviction. Legislation providing for guaranteed legal representation, known as Right to Counsel, was passed by City Council in November 2019. City regulation further defining the program was enacted in December 2021, allowing for implementation to begin. The program began in February 2022 with an initial rollout in the 19139 and 19121 zip codes.
To access Right to Counsel, tenants can call the Philly Tenant Hotline at (267) 443-2500. Legal representation and support will be provided by Community Legal Services, SeniorLAW Center, Legal Clinic for the Disabled, Philly VIP, and the Tenant Union Representative Network.
Right to Counsel builds on a growing 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.
“The eviction crisis disproportionately affects communities of color, particularly black female tenants. That is why access to free legal representation for low-income households, which helps level the playing field, is so important. It is a critical resource for keeping tenants in their homes and limiting disruption in the lives of families. The City is committed to scaling this program, and this expansion brings Philadelphia one step closer to making this right available citywide,” said Eva Gladstein, First Deputy Managing Director, City of Philadelphia.
This expansion builds on the success of the initial rollout. In the first two Right to Counsel zip codes, 38 percent of tenants received representation in Municipal Court – which is higher than the citywide representation rate across all Philadelphia zip codes (20.6 percent). The percentage of tenants receiving legal representation in Right to Counsel zip codes is expected to grow as tenants become more aware of this vital resource. Right to Counsel-represented tenants avoided all default judgments and were more likely to enter into a Judgment by Agreement (JBA) where attorneys have the opportunity to help negotiate reduced judgments, more time to move, and fair payment plans. More information on the first five months of Right to Counsel from the launch (February 1, 2022) through the end of the 2022 fiscal year (June 30, 2022) can be found in the Right to Counsel Annual Report.
“I am pleased about the plan to expand the Right to Counsel program to more Philadelphia communities, including the 8th Council District, which I represent. It is essential that tenants be able to remain in their homes so they can maintain a sense of stability for not only their families, but ultimately the entire community. Being able to access free of charge the same legal representation as the city’s more monied residents ensures their rights will no longer be jeopardized just because they can’t afford counsel. This Right to Counsel expansion is truly a step in the right direction,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Cindy Bass.
The first four Right to Counsel zip codes 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.
“I applaud the expansion of Right to Counsel for low-income renters within the 7th District. Stable housing helps Philadelphians thrive. Many people do not know their rights and cannot afford an attorney, so they feel bulldozed in court. This program helps ensure fair outcomes for all involved,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Quetcy Lozada.
Philadelphians in the covered zip codes, with income at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, are eligible for Right to Counsel. Immigration status does not affect eligibility.
Eligible renters have a Right to Counsel when facing:
- Eviction proceedings
- Administrative proceedings that could lead to the termination of the tenancy or eviction
- PHA housing subsidy termination proceedings
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, along with the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project and our Eviction Diversion Program, has made Philadelphia a national leader in preventing homelessness and displacement. These programs have kept people safe at home during the pandemic and stabilized families in crisis, and have also leveled the playing field to ensure tenants have access to justice. We are grateful to the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia City Council for investing in legal representation, which has been proven to prevent gun violence, keep kids in school, prevent job loss, and save the city money,” said Kadeem Morris, Divisional Supervising Attorney in the Housing Unit of Community Legal Services.
The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, established in 2018, will continue to provide information, legal advice, and potential legal representation to tenants city-wide. 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.