Delaware Becomes Fourth State to Provide Right to Representation for Renters Facing Eviction

The Delaware General Assembly passed on June 14 Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1 (SS1 for SB1), which ensures low-income renters a right to representation in eviction actions. In ensuring the right to representation, Delaware joins Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, and 15 other cities that have passed this important tenant protection. A broad coalition of advocates came together over the past two years to push for SS1 for SB1, which is now expected to be signed by Governor John Carney before being phased in over a three-year period.

SS1 for SB1 applies to low-income renters facing eviction whose household income is lower than 200% of the federal poverty guideline. The legislation requires landlords to provide notice to tenants of their right to representation at certain designated intervals of a tenancy and in eviction proceedings. SS1 for SB1 also creates an Eviction Diversion Program designed to help resolve payment or other issues after a landlord files for eviction. The bill also requires the Delaware attorney general to contract with appropriate legal service organizations to provide representation in proceedings covered by the bill. A “right to representation coordinator” will manage the contracts and work with community organizations to conduct outreach to renters about their new rights. The bill exempts landlords who own three or fewer units and who are not represented by a lawyer or agent.

A broad coalition of organizations came together to pass SS1 for SB1, led by the Delaware Community Legal Aid Society (CLASI) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware. The coalition collected and shared stories from renters about their experiences navigating evictions and highlighted the need for the legislation using data showing that 86% of Delaware landlords have legal representation in court eviction proceedings compared to only 2% of renters. In a press conference, the coalition highlighted a report demonstrating that Delaware would save at least $2.76 for every dollar invested into an effective right to representation program. Meanwhile, a public opinion poll showed that 71% of residents in Delaware’s Representative District 2 supported the legislation. Coalition partners also laid the groundwork for the passage of SS1 for SB1 by advocating for the adoption of Rule 57.1 in 2022, which allowed for Qualified Tenant Advocates to represent tenants in eviction cases (see Memo 2/14/22).

“This is a real game changer for tenants in our state,” said Rachel Stucker, executive director for the Housing Alliance Delaware, an NLIHC state partner. “As a state with one of the highest pre-COVID eviction rates in the country, and where we are seeing eviction rates go back up to pre-pandemic averages, Delaware could not afford to wait any longer to take action. This bill will help bring some balance to our system of housing justice, stabilize families and communities, and level the playing field for renters in our state. Right to representation is a critical rung in the ladder towards racial and housing justice. We are thrilled to have been a part of this coalition.”

“This legislation provides critical representation to low-income Delawareans who are in crisis,” said Sarah Spangler Rhine, managing attorney for housing at CLASI. “CLASI is so thankful for the work of all the coalition members who fought for this historic legislation. Our friends and neighbors continue to struggle with financial instability in a rental market that leaves many without housing. By providing representation to households facing eviction, we will increase access to justice and increase housing stability. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work with our fellow legal services organizations, Legal Services Corporation of Delaware and Delaware Volunteer Lawyers Service, to put the right to representation into effect.”