Tenants Should Have the Right to Legal Representation Before Eviction

Prof. Paula Franzese, Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall University Law School

Eviction Destabilizes Families, Targets Vulnerable and Compounds Crisis into Homelessness

On April 3, 2018 the Star-Ledger featured an opinion piece on the right to legal representation before eviction by guest columnist Paula Franzese.

Franzese writes about New Jersey’s eviction crisis citing the statistic that in Newark, 30,000 tenants face eviction each year. Eviction takes away families’ stability, preying on those who live on the edge of homelessness and forcing families into homelessness.

“A safe place to call home is a human right. When a tenant is displaced, a parade of horribles follows in the form of economic loss, trauma, illness, physical and emotional stress and, most tragically, homelessness,” writes Franzese.

“Homelessness comes at a high cost to already strapped government budgets. It costs more to provide temporary shelter than it does to subsidize sustainable affordable housing and prevent wrongful evictions in the first place.”

The deck is stacked against low-income tenants in eviction proceedings. Most low-income households facing eviction lack legal representation.

Writes Franzese, “While their landlords are typically well represented, low and moderate income tenants without a lawyer are without the mechanisms to assert their statutory rights to safe and habitable premises along with their right to be free from eviction unless the landlord can show cause. “

Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka has made a commitment to the right to counsel for Newark’s most vulnerable tenants facing eviction. And two critical bills in the New Jersey State Senate can make a big difference in preventing unjust evictions. The first bill, S805 “Relieves aggrieved tenants of the rent deposit requirement pending a hearing on the premises’ habitability. That bill brings NJ in line with the majority of states that do not require a tenant to post rent claimed due by the landlord in order to get a hearing on the tenant’s habitability claim.”

The second bill, S806 “Keeps court filing records in eviction proceedings confidential and unavailable to the public for at least sixty days after an action is filed to allow time for the case to proceed. Thereafter, those records would be discoverable only if the given matter did not result in a resolution favorable to the tenant.”

And U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to reform unfair tenant screening practices and reporting procedures.

Franzese urges the passage of S805, S806 and Sen. Booker’s Senate bill and concludes “We have reached a tipping point in this nation as unprecedented income inequality puts the plight of the most vulnerable into sharper focus. We can allay and also prevent the suffering wrought by housing displacement. In the process, let us seek for others the same basic assurances that we wish for ourselves.”

Paula Franzese is the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School.

She will be moderating a panel at the May 16 The Color of Law Public Policy Forum hosted by Seton Hall University Law School in Newark.

Star-ledger Op-ed

May 16 The Color of Law Public Policy Forum

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