How to Harness the Legal System to Prevent Evictions
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the CDC eviction moratorium has accelerated the urgency around eviction prevention efforts.
As the country continues to grapple with the health and economic fallouts of Covid-19, the pending eviction crisis threatens to further harm renters – particularly in communities of color – who have already been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis and economic recession.
Despite the Court’s ruling, the judicial and legal systems remain an innovative pathway to protect residents from eviction while state and local governments work to deliver emergency rental assistance.
This summer, we launched a four-part eviction prevention webinar series to address the housing stability of renter households as the nation works toward an equitable recovery.
Supported by JPMorgan Chase & Company, the series provides critical information, tools and best practices to a wide range of partners – including property owners, tenant advocates and policy makers.
For our most recent webinar, we hosted a panel on harnessing the legal system to prevent evictions. As the nation urgently seeks to prevent renters from losing their homes with the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium, the legal and judicial systems offer a viable path to effective eviction-prevention strategies.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice have made a national call to judges, attorneys and court administrators to institute protocols and practices that ensure household stability.
In this panel discussion, we explored the role the legal and judicial systems play in the eviction process, the impact of court policies and processes on tenants, and the safeguards needed to ensure that renters can avoid eviction – and create an even playing field when eviction filings do happen.
Our experts shared a range of strategies that leaders in the legal system and in courts can implement and highlighted best practices that can both stem the tide of the pending eviction crisis and provide long-term stability for families.
- Eric Dunn, Director of Litigation, National Housing Law Project (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Danielle Hirsch and Zach Zarnow, Principal Court Management Consultants, National Center for State Courts (email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Minnesota
- Honorable Annette M. Rizzo (Ret.), JAMS (Judicial Arbitration Mediation Services) (email@example.com)
- Christine Stoneman, Chief, Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, U.S. Department of Justice (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Jacqueline Waggoner, President, Enterprise Community Partners Solutions Division
Four Key Takeaways From the Panel
- Court systems can act now to divert or delay potentially avoidable evictions and to connect renters and housing providers to rental assistance resources.
- There are financial and technical resources available to support these efforts.
- Effective communication is critical so renters and housing providers are aware of their rights, responsibilities and available resources.
- Even when evictions are unavoidable, there are strategies to reduce the long-term harm to residents.
Our Eviction Prevention Webinar Series
Our first panel in July, Eviction Prevention as a Preservation Strategy, examined the connection between housing stability and eviction prevention as strategies for the long-term preservation of our affordable housing stock.
Our fourth and final webinar in the series will take place in October (date and time to be announced) and focus on upstream prevention efforts to eliminate eviction risk. Please be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to find out more about our future events.
Additional Resources for Advocates, Practitioners and Policymakers
The panelists highlighted a range of critical resources that can support efforts in your communities:
- National Center on State Courts has a breadth of resources on their website https://www.ncsc.org/evictiondiversion including:
- Eviction Diversion Diagnostic Tool: https://www.ncsc.org/newsroom/public-health-emergency/implementation-lab/eviction-resources/eviction-diversion-planning
- Tiny Chat Videos: https://www.ncsc.org/newsroom/public-health-emergency/implementation-lab/eviction-resources/resources
- Map of Housing Legal Aid Providers nationally: https://www.ncsc.org/newsroom/public-health-emergency/implementation-lab/eviction-resources/resources-for-the-public
- National Housing Law Project’s Covid-19 resources for advocates, lawyers, homeowners, policymakers and others: https://www.nhlp.org/covid19/
- National Counsel for a Civil Right to Counsel’s status map of right to counsel status nationwide: http://civilrighttocounsel.org/map
- Philadelphia COVID-19 Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Dashboard, as an example of a resource that tracks disbursement of rental assistance to date: https://phlrentassist.org/dashboard/
Federal Guidance and Resources on Eviction Prevention and Access to Rental Assistance
- The White House released a fact sheet on the administration’s efforts to accelerate the disbursement of rental assistance resources: FACT SHEET: Biden Administration Takes Additional Steps to Prevent Evictions as the Delivery of Emergency Rental Assistance Continues to Increase | The White House [whitehouse.gov]
- On August 30, 2021, the Attorney General issued a letter and video encouraging the legal community, including federal employees, to volunteer to prevent evictions. The letter concludes: “During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy urged members of the legal profession, as part of their obligation to support equal justice under law, to use their knowledge and skills to advance the rights of those who were most vulnerable. Once again, the legal community has an obligation to help those who are most vulnerable. We can do that by doing everything we can to ensure that people have a meaningful opportunity to stay in their homes and that eviction procedures are carried out in a fair and just manner.” The letter is available at: AG Letter to Members of the Legal Community (justice.gov) [justice.gov], and the video is available at: Eviction Crisis Prompts Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Call to Action to Legal Community | OPA | Department of Justice [justice.gov].
- On the same day, law school deans from across the country joined together and released a statement in support of the Attorney General’s call to the legal community and committing to take action to combat this housing and eviction crisis. The statement is available at:
Dean Trevor Morrison joins law deans’ statement in support of Attorney General Garland’s call to the legal community | NYU School of Law [law.nyu.edu]
- On August 27, 2021, the Attorney General, along with the Secretaries of HUD and Treasury, wrote a letter to governors, mayors, county executives, chief justices, and state court administrators encouraging them to issue their own moratoria, stay evictions while rental assistance applications are processed, and use available funds to enhance tenant access to legal representation. The letter is available at: Secretary of the Treasury Yellen, Attorney General Garland and Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Fudge Sent Letter to Governors, Mayors and State Courts Urging Use of Emergency Rental Assistance Over Eviction | U.S. Department of the Treasury [home.treasury.gov].
- As part of an ongoing effort to prevent evictions and keep families in their homes, the Treasury Department recently announced seven additional policies to encourage state and local governments to expedite emergency rental assistance, available at: Treasury Announces Seven Additional Policies to Encourage State and Local Governments to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance | U.S. Department of the Treasury [home.treasury.gov].
- A readout of Attorney General Merrick Garland and Associate Attorney General (AAG) Vanita Gupta’s Meeting with State Chief Justices dated August 11, 2021. Available at: Readout of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta's Meeting with State Chief Justices | OPA | Department of Justice [justice.gov].
- A letter dated June 24, 2021 from AAG Vanita Gupta to state court chief justices and court administrators encouraging state and local courts to consider implementing eviction diversion strategies. Available at:
Letter from Associate Attorney General Gupta - June 24, 2021 (justice.gov) [justice.gov].
- A blog Post from AAG Vanita Gupta dated July 30, 2021, following up on her presentation to the Conference of Chief Justices and State Court Administrators. Available at: How state courts can prevent a housing and eviction crisis | OPA | Department of Justice [justice.gov].
- The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau created a tool which tells users what groups in their state are involved in distributing rental assistance. This tool is available at the following link: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus/mortgage-and-housing-assistance/renter-protections/
Civil Rights and Unlawful Evictions Resources
- NCSC video on Fair Housing and State Courts: Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke and HUD Acting Assistant Secretary Jeanine Worden chat with National Center for State Courts (NCSC) about the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in state courts. Available at: Tiny Chat 59: Fair Housing on Vimeo [vimeo.com].
- List of FHA Companion Resources, which includes links to recent HUD guidance on Fair Housing Obligations and Evictions, as well as information about how individuals can file a fair housing complaint with HUD. Available at: A Tiny Chat Companion: Fair Housing Act Resources [ncsc.org].
- HUD FHA resources: Fair Housing and Evictions Main Page | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) [hud.gov] and File a Complaint – Main Page | HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) [hud.gov].
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits race, color, or national origin discrimination – including lack of reasonable steps to provide language access – in federally funded programs. www.usdoj.gov/crt/fcs [usdoj.gov] and www.lep.gov [lep.gov]
- The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) prohibits evicting an active duty servicemember without a court order. In addition, a default judgment cannot be entered against a servicemember unless the landlord files an affidavit alerting the court to the tenant’s military status; then, the court must appoint guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the servicemember and also must postpone the proceedings for a period of time. See The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) (justice.gov) [justice.gov].
- Reports of discrimination may be filed on the Department’s Civil Rights Reporting Portal [civilrights.justice.gov] at https://civilrights.justice.gov [civilrights.justice.gov] or by mail to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20530. Online and paper complaint forms are available in multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese (traditional and simplified), Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog.