Dealing with a future with out moratoriums, civil rights legal professionals, housing advocates push for proper to counsel

Yale news

Despite moratoriums in place at the federal and state levels, landlords use exemptions to file eviction cases in New Haven. The number of cases is likely to increase over the next three months as the eviction moratoriums end. Up to 39,000 Connecticut renters are vulnerable to eviction, according to a December US Census report.

The opportunity has caught the attention of local civil rights attorneys, many of whom have begun advocating a tenant’s “right to advice”. Unlike criminal cases, in eviction cases – which are considered civil proceedings – defendants are not guaranteed the right to a lawyer. Landlords employed lawyers in 90 percent of eviction proceedings nationwide in 2019. In comparison, tenants found legal representation in only seven percent of these cases.

“Our judicial system is not just – it’s a truth that is not spoken often enough,” wrote Kelly McConney Moore, interim Senior Policy Counsel of the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, in a testimony given to the Connecticut General Assembly Housing Committee. “One step to make our society fairer is to ensure that people have access to lawyers when their fundamental rights are at stake.”

On March 4, the Housing Committee held a public hearing to discuss a bill that would create a nationwide right to legal advice in eviction proceedings. Housing advocates broadly support the bill, which many small landlords see as unfair or financially unsustainable.

Evictions continue despite moratoria

Two eviction moratoriums have affected New Haven residents since the first pandemic.

Connecticut’s moratorium ensures that landlords cannot request evictions unless residents owed rent prior to March 2020. Six months’ rent or more owed due on or after March 1, 2020; are a “serious nuisance”; or if a landlord wants to use the rented space as their main residence. This eviction moratorium has been extended to the “end of the public health emergency”, which is currently set for April 20, 2021.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also passed a moratorium. Tenants cannot be evicted if they provide their landlords with a statement stating that they are unable to pay rent and meet certain conditions. Exceptions to this moratorium exist if tenants are involved in criminal activities, endanger the health or safety of other tenants or violate the rules of their rental agreement. The federal moratorium was extended to at least March 31.

Still, under these implicit and explicit exceptions, the residents of New Haven are facing eviction proceedings. From the start of the Connecticut moratorium to the end of 2020, 31 eviction cases were filed in New Haven.

Civil rights attorney and former mayoral candidate Alex Taubes LAW ’15 said some landlords apply the “Serious Harassment” exemption against tenants at their own discretion.

Taubes told the news that he worked with a New Haven mother who filed an eviction case after she tried to call the police when intruders tried to tear down her door.

“The landlord is trying to raise allegations of harassment because of these recurring incidents, but it really is largely the problem that the landlord is not putting adequate security measures in place in the apartment,” Taubes said.

Taubes added that he believed the “serious harassment” exception was an example of racial inequality in civil proceedings. Taubes said he believes people of color are more likely to describe their behavior as “harassment” and that the police are calling on them to do so.

According to research by the American Constitution Society, “a police-based housing policy may result in expulsions or evictions based on police contacts resulting from the arming of the police by parishioners who are racially suspicious or angry with colored people.”

Often, Taubes added, an incident involving the police being called is used as evidence to determine the number of “harassment” suffered by tenants.

“Sometimes it can be explicitly racist and retaliatory,” Taubes said, “and sometimes it’s more subtle, but the background to the racist enforcement of housing laws is still with us.”

According to Nathan Leys LAW ’20, a Liman Law Fellow with the Housing Unit of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, the CDC moratorium declaration requires tenants to do as much as possible to pay their rents in full and on time. However, Leys said he believed the judges “did not select” tenants’ financial measures when assessing whether they had done their best to pay the rent in full. He told the news about a client he helped who decided to give their children $ 50 Christmas gifts instead of paying their landlord a late rent he believes nearly drove the family away. The customer’s case is still pending.

“There are judges who think the CDC moratorium doesn’t apply because they think people haven’t tried hard enough, and it’s not clear what’s really hard enough,” Leys said.

Handling financial and fairness issues

The divergence in government guarantees of legal representation between criminal and civil proceedings has its roots in Supreme Court precedents, according to Leys.

In 1963, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled in the Gideon v. Wainwright case that all state courts must appoint lawyers for criminal defendants who could not afford legal assistance. While civil law defendants were denied the right to practice attorney after this ruling, efforts in the decades that followed sought to expand that right. In 1981, a Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in the Lassiter v. Department of Social Services case ruled that courts must only grant a defendant access to public lawyer if the case involved the individual’s physical freedom and imprisonment endangered. According to Leys, the precedent of this ruling resulted in an enumerated difference in the way the state treats civilian defendants as opposed to criminal cases.

As policy makers reconsider the right to advice in civil claims, they must also consider the financial feasibility of such a decision.

“The big answer to how you pay for it is, ‘How don’t you pay for it? ‘Because the cost savings in the right to advice are so immense,’ said Leys.

Leys cited a study by the accounting firm Stout Risius Ross that compared the cost of providing legal services to tenants at risk of eviction versus the dollars saved after their introduction in social services. For example, in Baltimore, every dollar spent publicly advising tenants saves $ 6.24 for the city and state. Leys said that while lawmakers bears the cost of investing in the program, the city and state could benefit in the long term.

Although Leys acknowledges anecdotal cases of tenants who choose not to pay their rent despite being financially stable, he considers it “deeply irresponsible” to adopt a policy based on moral arguments derived from anecdotal evidence when the “moral issue is much more complicated. ”

The hearing

At Thursday’s hearing, tenants, including New Haven’s Ashley Donea Blount, spoke out in favor of the Connecticut bill and shared their experiences with the eviction.

“I remember having nowhere to go when I was served an eviction notice.” Said Blount in her testimonial. “I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed as I walked house to house with bags and bins filled with my belongings. Some nights I slept on couches or in my car because there was no permanent space. “

New Haven-based grassroots organization Black and Brown United In Action endorsed the bill in the Connecticut General Assembly, saying that legislation is particularly important in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Evictions and evictions are particularly dangerous for individual and public health during a pandemic,” Black and Brown United wrote in their testimony. “The eviction is likely to increase the COVID-19 infection rate as it leads to overcrowded living environments, duplication, evanescence, limited access to health care and a decreased ability to adhere to pandemic control strategies.”

She also assisted in the hearing, including Sal Luciano, President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, Liam Brennan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, and Kelly McConney Moore, Interim Senior Policy Counsel for the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union .

Many landowners, including Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners President John Souza, spoke out against the law at the hearing, saying it would make it difficult for landlords to operate. Souza said government efforts should instead focus on helping the construction of more homes.

“With all of my housing experience, you don’t need a lawyer who says, ‘I’m sorry, I was sick and I want to make an agreement.'” Souza said during the hearing. “The landlord is happy to have you.”

He went on to say that landowners don’t want to go to court and spend money on hiring a lawyer.

The city of New Haven passed the CASTLE, Program and Eviction Resolution Fund (Coronavirus Assistance and Security Tenant Landlord Emergency) last year. The programs aim to provide financial assistance to tenants at risk of eviction. CASTLE is providing up to $ 3,000 to pay for the COVID-19 rent back. The Eviction Resolution Fund pays for legal assistance to eligible tenants before a housing court.

At the federal level, US Representative Rosa DeLauro of New Haven also introduced federal eviction prevention law last year to legally represent people in evictions who account for 125 percent or less of federal poverty.

Alvaro Perpuly| [email protected]

Razel Suansing | [email protected]

Comments are closed.