Early Evidence on Eviction Patterns after the rollout of NYC’s Universal Access to Counsel

One of the primary eviction prevention measures jurisdictions across the country have taken is to expand access to free legal counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. In 2017, New York City became the first jurisdiction to enact “Universal Access to Counsel” (UAC), guaranteeing free legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction in the City’s housing courts. Following New York City’s enactment of UAC, four other cities also adopted universal representation initiatives: San Francisco, Newark, Cleveland, and Philadelphia (Brey, 2019). Several other jurisdictions such as Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Antonio are currently piloting or considering proposals for such programs (Reyes, 2019; Riker, 2019; Schoenberg, 2019). In December 2019, two U.S. Senators (Michael Bennet, D-CO, and Rob Portman, R-OH) even took up the issue at the federal level, proposing increased federal funding to support tenant representation (Bennet, 2019).

Advocates have argued that representation is necessary both to provide due process to tenants facing eviction and to enforce tenants’ statutory and common-law rights, such as the right to a habitable dwelling, which find redress primarily through the court system. Proponents have also suggested that access to counsel will reduce the incidence of evictions and decrease levels of homelessness. Jurisdictions have thus begun to channel significant resources into programs designed to increase representation in eviction proceedings. Research, however, has yet to evaluate these claims rigorously. This paper aims to address this gap by examining the effectiveness of legal representation in preventing evictions in the private rental market.