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House Amends and Passes the Tenant Right to Counsel Bill

Man, House Republicans really hate tenants. Senate Republicans all voted to pass the Right to Counsel bill. All House Republicans either were absent, not voting or voted against tenants. The House amended and passed Senate Bill 1S by a vote of 25-12-1-3 yesterday. The bill would give tenants a right to representation in eviction proceedings and other landlord-tenant actions. The House attached a technical amendment to SB 1(S), sending the bill back to the Senate for final consideration.

Sponsored by House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-BrownSenate Bill 1(S) would connect tenants experiencing financial hardship with access to free legal representation. The bill also creates a pre-trial diversion program aimed at resolving landlord-tenant disputes before they reach a courtroom. SB 1(S) is designed to help level the playing field between landlords and Delaware’s 100,000-plus renters, 20% of whom face eviction each year.

A 2020 study of pre-pandemic eviction data by the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy found that 14 tenants in Delaware are evicted from their homes on an average day – a rate 2 percentage points higher than the national average. At $45 per case, eviction filings are relatively inexpensive and easy for Delaware landlords to file.

Only about 2% of tenants have legal representation in Delaware eviction proceedings, compared to about 86% of landlords who are represented in court by an attorney, a property manager or other agent, according to the Biden School.

SB 1(S) would create a Right to Representation Coordinator position appointed by the Attorney General and empowered to contract with one or more nonprofits – like Delaware Community Legal Aid Society – to offer legal representation by an attorney or non-attorney advocate to tenants facing eviction proceedings whose household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Additionally, the bill would establish 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 many landlord-tenant disputes would have to pass through the diversion program before any formal legal action could be taken.

Last month, the legislative Joint Finance Committee included $1.3 million in funding to build out this program in the fiscal 2024 operating budget, which will be voted on later this month.

The legislation does include some key protections to protect responsible landlords. First, it exempts “mom and pop” landlords who rent three or fewer family-owned properties and who are not represented by an attorney. It also does not guarantee counsel when an attorney review deems the tenant’s case lacks merit. 

SENATE BILL 1S – TENANT RIGHT TO COUNSELCurrrent Status – Senate Passed 19-0-1-1. House Amended and Passed 25-12-1-3. Sent back to the Senate for final passage
House SponsorsMinor-Brown, Lambert, Baumbach, Dorsey Walker, Griffith, Harris, Longhurst, Moore, Morrison, Phillips, Romer, Williams, Wilson-AntonSenate SponsorsTownsend, Hoffner, Pinkney, Gay, Huxtable, Lockman, McBride, Poore, Sokola, Sturgeon, Walsh
House Yes VotesBaumbach Bolden Bush Carson Chukwuocha Cooke Dorsey-Walker Griffith Harris Heffernan Johnson Lambert Longhurst Lynn Matthews Minor-Brown Morrison Neal Osienski Parker-Selby Phillips Romer Schwartzkopf Williams Wilson-Anton Senate Yes VotesBrown Gay Hansen Hoffner Huxtable Lockman Mantzavinos McBride Paradee Pinkney Poore Sokola Sturgeon Townsend Walsh // Buckson Lawson Pettyjohn Richardon
House No VotesBriggs King Collins Dukes Hilovsky Morris Postles Ramone Shupe Smith Spiegelman Vanderwende YearickSenate No Votes
House Absents or Not Voting – (Absent) Short, Gray, Moore (Not Voting) HensleySenate Absent or Not VotingHocker Wilson

“Facing the loss of your home is a traumatic event that can have devastating impacts on families and individuals. The impact of this type of disruption can last a lifetime and lead to costs that ripple through our economy, our health care and criminal justice systems, and our society,” said Rep. Minor-Brown.

“Given the current state of housing in Delaware, residents deserve fair representation in these matters. SB 1 is a bold step to ensure that those facing eviction who most need a fair hearing get that representation to ensure their voices are heard and their concerns are raised. I’m grateful to everyone who worked to make this a strong, fair bill that will help keep a roof over people’s heads.”

“By passing this legislation today, the General Assembly has made housing more stable for hundreds of Delaware families who otherwise would have been unfairly evicted based entirely on their inability to afford adequate legal counsel,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, the prime sponsor of SB 1(S). “Helping those families stay in their homes will help parents stay employed, help children stay in school, and reduce the costs that ripple across our economy, our healthcare system and our courts. I want to thank the housing advocates who worked tirelessly over the last two years to get this bill through the Legislature and on to Governor John Carney for his signature.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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