Senate Bill 101(S) seemed like it was well and truy buried in committee, as I wrote earlier this month. It seemed like the Vice-Chairwoman of the House Housing and Community Affairs Committee, Representative Stephanie Bolden, was opposed to the bill, and her opposition, kept the bill bottled up.
But then Gerald Brady happened, in that he resigned, and there was subsequently a special election that elected Bud Freel to replace Brady, and Freel made it onto the Housing Committee. And it is speculated that that is what tipped the scales in favor of this bill, wich establishes a right to counsel for tenants in eviction cases, being released from committee.
And that is what happened this past week. It promptly got reassigned to the House Appropriations Committee to handle the fiscal and funding aspects of the bill, but that was to be expected and it is a more favorable committee at any rate.
So the odds of this bill getting passed this session just skyrocketed.
Senate Bill 101 (S) is an important bill that creates a right to counsel for renters, specifically for those renters in low income areas. It has already passed the Senate 13-7-1 with all Democrats except Spiros Mantzavinos voting for it, and all Repubicans except Gerald Hocker (who did not vote) voting no.
|Senate Bill 101 Sponsors||Yes Votes||No Votes|
|Townsend, Pinkney, Gay, Lockman, S.McBride||Passed Senate 13-7-1. Brown, Ennis, Gay, Hansen, Lockman, Paradee, Pinkney, Poore, McBride, Sokola, Sturgeon, Townsend, Walsh||Bonini, Hocker (not voting), Lawson, Lopez, Mantzavinos, Pettyjohn, Richardson, Wilson|
|Minor-Brown, Baumbach, K.Johnson, Lambert, Bentz, Longhurst, Morrison, Wilson-Anton|
|Current Status —||House Appropriations Committee|
There is a huge need for this service. Approximately 18,000 eviction cases are filed each year in the State of Delaware, and while 86% of landlords are represented by an attorney, agent, or business manager, only 2% of tenants have representation.
Giving tenants a right to counsel will drastically decrease evictions, leading to greater housing security, family stability, and community health. It also represents progress in the greater movement to make housing a human right.
The bill would give the right to free legal counsel to people whose income is no more than twice the federal poverty guideline. Further, it would set a floor on the money owed that can result in eviction proceedings: No action may be filed where the amount of rent owed is one month’s rent or less than $500, whichever is greater.
The legislation would further create a residential eviction diversion program modeled after Delaware’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, which has helped more than 62% of participants stay in their homes since its creation in the wake of the Great Recession. Tenants in the mediation process also would be provided with a designated housing counselor, and most landlord-tenant disputes would have to pass through the diversion program before any formal legal action could be undertaken.
The bill would allow tenants to stay in their homes if they pay all past-due rent – as well as any applicable court costs and fees – after a possession judgment has been awarded, but before an eviction takes place.
Finally, it would create a “Right to Counsel Coordinator” position appointed by the attorney general. The coordinator would be able to contract with nonprofits offering legal representation to qualifying tenants facing eviction.
Studies have shown that tenants represented under similar right-to-counsel protections adopted by at least eight major cities throughout the country have resulted in tenants winning or settling their eviction proceedings in more than half of cases. Represented tenants are also twice as likely to remain in their homes as unrepresented tenants. Much of the nonprofits’ work is expected to focus on connecting tenants and landlords with rental assistance programs.