Legal advocates and state lawmakers call for guaranteed legal representation in landlord-tenant disputes

Written by on October 13, 2020

 Legal advocates and state lawmakers call for guaranteed legal representation in landlord-tenant disputes

By Alanna Elder, WITF

October 13, 2020

Matt Smith / Keystone Crossroads

Much of the discussion around evictions in Pennsylvania has focused on eviction bans on financial assistance for tenants and landlords. 

But as WITF’s Alanna Elder reports, legal advocates and some Democratic state lawmakers are promoting another step – guaranteed legal representation. 

The federal ban on evictions stands until the end of the year and offers some protection to people who submit a declaration under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order. 

But John Pollock, an attorney with the Maryland-based Public Justice Center, says applying the order at the level of local courts is far from straightforward. 

“They’re making different determinations about, does it prevent filings, does it prevent sheriff’s actions only, does it allow the landlord to challenge the tenant’s declaration and so on and so forth,” said Pollock.

Pollock says eviction court is more complicated than ever, which makes it all the more urgent for tenants to have representation. 

While all people have the right to a lawyer in criminal cases, that’s generally not true for civil cases, including landlord-tenant disputes. 

The state Democratic Policy Committee has heard testimony from legal experts about guaranteeing access to counsel for low-income Pennsylvanians in civil cases. 

A legislative panel considered such an approach in 2013, but never drafted a proposal. 

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