Maryland became in May the second state with a “right to counsel” through the passage of H.B.18. “Right to counsel” means that income-eligible renters will have access to free legal representation in eviction courts. H.B.18 also requires landlords to send tenants a 10-day notice before beginning the process of filing an eviction for overdue rent. The notice must also include information about legal resources and financial assistance. Maryland advocates continue to push for funding for implementation of the law before it takes effect in October.
Renters United Maryland tirelessly campaigned to pass H.B. 18 because a right to counsel is critical for protecting residents and lessening the negative impact of evictions. Even when an eviction occurs, lawyers can help prevent an eviction from being formally entered on a tenant’s record or help extend the deadline for the tenant to move. These actions are important because formal evictions make it harder for tenants to find future housing.
Right to counsel is essential given the number of potential upcoming evictions in Maryland. The state currently has between 120,000 and 180,000 eviction cases pending. Although 96% of landlords have a lawyer in eviction courts, 99% of renters face eviction without a lawyer. Evictions are also an issue of equity because communities of color and low-income renters are disproportionately at risk of eviction.
Campaigns for right to counsel are increasing around the nation as a result of tenant organizing efforts. Right to counsel exists in other states and cities such as Connecticut, Washington, San Francisco, Denver, Louisville, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Newark and New York City. The legislation has been impactful - in Cleveland, 93% of tenants who received legal representation were not evicted.