Action: Sign on to Right to Counsel and Eviction Sealing (HOMES) Bills!

The Western MA Network to End Homelessness has joined two statewide legislative campaigns that would help prevent and end homelessness: Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases and Eviction Sealing (HOMES).  A key aspect of these campaigns is to grow its list of organizational supporters.   I am relaying this information in the hopes that your organization will sign on by going here for Right to Counsel and here for Eviction Sealing.

Right to Counsel: Right now in Massachusetts, over 90% of tenants face eviction without lawyers while over 70% of landlords have legal representation. Homelessness is frequently a direct and avoidable consequence as a result of this imbalance.

Please join the growing list of organizations and municipalities supporting Right to Counsel.  

There are currently 3 bills before the Legislature that would provide a right to counsel in eviction proceedings.  The Right to Counsel Coalition has submitted a bill to the Judiciary Committee that would coalesce all three and also include access to legal representation for low-income small landlords of owner-occupied homes who rely on rent to pay their mortgages.  The Coalition’s bill also charges a Civil Justice Committee with studying and making recommendations about how to present evictions before they get to court.

The Boston Globe published an editorial on November 6, endorsing Right to Counsel in MA.  You can read it here.  One of many worthy quotes: “For renters who don’t have the financial means, the right to a court-appointed lawyer would level the playing field and offer them a better chance of success at staying in their homes”

In addition, on October 30, MA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants endorsed a right to counsel in eviction cases in his State of the Judiciary speech.  You can read about it on MassLive

Right to counsel has been enacted in New York City, San Francisco, Newak and Cleveland. Massachusetts has the opportunity to be the first state to provide a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.  New York’s experience, the first and therefore longest so far, demonstrates significant cost savings from preserving tenancies and avoiding costly shelter stays, not to mention the long-term trauma resulting from homelessness. 

Join the growing list of organizations and municipalities supporting Right to Counsel.  

Eviction Sealing (HOMES bill): Right now in Massachusetts, when a landlord files an eviction case, the filing is made publicly available by the Trial Court online and stays there forever.  No matter what happens next – if the case is dismissed by the landlord or the judge; if an agreement is reached; if the landlord ends up being liable for sanitary code violations conditions or other unlawful behavior, the record stays with the tenant forever.

This current law has inadvertently resulted in a screening device that frequently bars tenants from obtaining housing.  Landlords enter a tenant applicant’s name into the database and if the name pops up, before they have a chance to dig deeper into the outcome, they have moved on to the next applicant.  If the initial eviction complaint names the children in the household, their names are entered into the database, too, and this eviction tracks them into adulthood.

A prior eviction record – regardless of outcome – is one of the single greatest barriers to re-housing people who have experienced homelessness. To read more about it, please see this report  Evicted for Life.
The HOMES bill would change that.  It would automatically seal an eviction filing, to be made public only in the event of a negative judgment against the tenant.  It would also seal all eviction records after 3 years so that tenants are not marked for life.  

Please join the list of supporters for this bill. 

Thank you for your consideration.  Adding your organization to these coalitions will make an important contribution to our shared mission to prevent and end homelessness in Western Massachusetts.