ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Effective Tuesday, February 1, low-income renters in Philadelphia’s 19139 and 19121 ZIP codes 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.
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.
“Establishing a Right to Counsel in Philadelphia creates a new and effective tool to ensure the rights of Philadelphia renters and resolve disputes,” said Eva Gladstein, deputy managing director for Health and Human Services. “Evictions overwhelmingly impact women and children and negatively affect the community as a whole. With this launch in two ZIP codes, Right to Counsel will build on the work of the Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response and the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project to support tenants, ensure fair processes, and prevent unnecessary evictions.”
“City Council is proud to support the Right to Counsel law in eviction and related proceedings,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke (D-5th Dist.). “Oftentimes, renters don’t know their rights, and can easily find themselves evicted from their apartment or home. The Right to Counsel law is designed to provide them with badly needed legal representation, to ensure their rights are protected and to safeguard their ability to remain in their home. This is an important reform.”
Right to Counsel will initially launch in ZIP codes 19139 and 19121. These areas 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.
“Housing is a fundamental human right, and today, Philadelphia is taking a key step forward in enshrining that right for our city’s renters,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (D-At-Large). “This program will save thousands of families from enduring the hardship and trauma of an eviction, which disproportionately impacts Black renters, women, and caregivers. In what was once the fourth highest evicting city in the nation, we are proving to the world that we can prevent poverty-based evictions. I am thankful to an entire movement of housing justice advocates and to our city agencies and their partners who made this not only possible, but a priority of our city.”
“We know through experience that many of our constituents facing eviction don’t have legal assistance, putting them at a severe disadvantage when it comes to achieving a just outcome for their cases,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (D-3rd Dist.). “Right to Counsel will ensure that these tenants get the support they need to remain safely housed. I’m grateful to my colleague Councilmember Helen Gym for shepherding this important legislation, and to the Kenney Administration for making it a reality for our city.”
Individuals with income at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level are eligible for Right to Counsel, provided they live in one of the covered ZIP codes. Immigration status does not affect eligibility.
Eligible renters have a Right to Counsel when facing:
• Eviction proceedings
• Lease or other tenancy termination proceedings
• PHA housing subsidy termination proceedings
In those circumstances, 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 is a major step to leveling the playing field for Philadelphia tenants facing loss of their homes by eviction,” said Kadeem Morris, supervising attorney for Community Legal Services. “While 87 percent of Philadelphia landlords have access to an attorney, only 16 percent of renters do. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the impact of evictions, which destabilize households and can lead to displacement, job loss, and mental and physical health impacts for adults and children. Evictions are a racial justice issue as they are most likely to impact Black women and their children. The Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project, Eviction Diversion, Right to Counsel, and other tenant protections all work together to level the playing field, prevent homelessness and displacement, and stabilize neighborhoods. We are grateful for this investment from the City of Philadelphia and City Council, and for the work of all of our partners to make this happen.”
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: www.phillytenant.org or call the Philly Tenant Hotline at: (267) 443-2500 to access both Right to Counsel and Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project services.