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Councilors to study providing lawyers to tenants facing eviction

Ben Weber at council meeting

Weber explains his proposal.

The Boston City Council yesterday agreed to look at setting up a pilot program to help tenants facing eviction by giving them access to a housing attorney.

City Councilor Ben Weber (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) formally proposed the idea yesterday as a way to even the playing field between landlords in a time, almost all of whom have a lawyer during housing-court proceedings, and tenants, who mostly don't and whom he said may not be aware of their basic rights, or sometimes even deadlines for trying to contest their impending homelessness because of the complexities of housing law and the court system.

"The right to counsel is a bedrock of our democracy," Weber, himself a lawyer, said. And while that right has mostly been exercised in criminal cases, it's time for the city to look at protecting the right of tenants "to have a roof over your head," especially at a time when rapidly rising rents are placing more and more people at risk of eviction.

Weber noted the Baker administration set up a similar legal program for tenants facing eviction during the initial phases of the pandemic and said such a program is particularly needed now that eviction rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels. He said eviction rates rose 40% over the past year in Suffolk County, and that Black and LatinX families and single mothers are particularly vulnerable.

Weber added he would look to add small landlords to the pilot, since they also can face a daunting legal process - and expense.

Weber made his proposal during his "maiden" speech as a councilor following his election last fall. After he was done, and council President Ruthzee Louijeune assigned the proposal to a committee for a public hearing, councilors gave him a standing ovation. They then posed with Weber and his family for photos.

Watch Weber's first council speech:

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PDF icon Weber's request for a hearing98.34 KB


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Comments

Thank you, Councilor Weber and all who are working for this.

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Housing Court is an absolute s-show. Having both parties represented by lawyers makes the process infinitely easier for all involved, including landlords. 99% of the time they'll settle the matter and be done with it.

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when the annual cost of attendance even for New England School of Law is over $90,000 (at 8.05% interest on GradPLUS loans!) and the GOP just floated their fourth or fifth proposal in the last eight years to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in a manner that would eliminate most income-based repayment plans (and GradPLUS loans, for that matter), one does wonder just how long any such program would be feasible. The payment rate (for independent lawyers) and/or salary (if the lawyers are hired full-time for this sort of work) would be grossly inadequate to service law school loans from any of Boston/Cambridge's law schools, all of which between $250,000 and $333,000 for three years of tuition and living expenses. That works out to a standard monthly repayment of a couple thousand dollars a month, after taxes, and most state lawyering positions start out somewhere in the $45,000 to $60,000 range. It is ONLY through income-based repayment plans that public service lawyering jobs can be filled,* and the GOP has long been signalling that those plans are toast the next time they control the executive and legislative branches.

And there are at least two SCOTUS justices (Thomas, Gorsuch) who have publicly written about their disdain for Gideon v. Wainwright, which is the case that guarantees counsel for criminal defendants, and I wouldn't be surprised if at least Alito and Roberts could be prodded into that position as well. Things could get a lot worse for the right to counsel for anyone who can't pay out of pocket.

*Honestly it is only through income-based repayment plans that MOST lawyering jobs outside of the Ropes & Grays of the world can be fulfilled; the last analysis I saw (Wall Street Journal, 2021) indicated that two years after graduation only 1 in 3 lawyers have managed to pay down even a dollar of principal. That can basically be read as "Only 1 in 3 law grads makes enough money to afford their standard student loan payment and in a world without income-based repayment plans the other 2 in 3 would likely be in default."

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The taxpayers are providing lawyers for people who might be the offender? Are we providing lawyers to the landlords too?

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First, this is a proposal. The city isn't paying for anything right now.

Second, Weber specifically said he hoped to include small landlords in the pilot. I mean, good for you if you're worried about the legal bills of landlords with hundreds of units, I guess.

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Should we take away the right to legal counsel for people charged with criminal acts too?

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"The taxpayers are providing lawyers for people who might be the offender" matches public defenders as well, but most people seem fine with that.

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Someone is not familiar with the most elemental facets of the American legal system...

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Rent is exploitation. It should be cancelled.

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What does that mean?

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You want more housing. Well people get evicted from their homes when developers by a triple decker, knock it down and put up 6 or 8 luxury condos. So next time you people say build it, remember the people who get displaced.

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And their free lawyer ( housing court free lawyer for a day program) ended up paying the the renters portion of owed rent in a subsidized unit I wouldn't have otherwise collected on as part of a last minute agreement to avoid an eviction on their record.

Said tenant's brother illegally moved into the apartment with her, was selling crack and the Boston Police raided the unit. I had to get copies of the police report and supoena gang unit officers to testify in court. Since it was drug related it was an emergency 2 week process to settle in court.

It was stressful and the free lawyer helped move the case along in my experience.

I could see more complex cases dragging out and smaller landlords could loose months worth of rent and possibly their property from extended delays.

So this seems reasonable but will likely end up increasing rents as landlords now need to spend more money to evict tenants that don't pay their rent.

I am a bigger fan of the RAFT program in many eviction cases.

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The eviction process for cause simply does not work for anyone except a tenant so I'm glad to see some of this proposal includes representation for small landlords. The misnomer that all property is owned by massive rich careless corporation is simply untrue but it does support the narrative many use to spew hatred to anyone that owns a property.

Even if you have good cause it can take up to a year to evict someone. The ultimate kick in the balls is if you actually get an execution to evict the landlord has to pay to move them or pay to store their belongings. The entire process needs a fresh look.

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… they eventually lose their home. It only helps protect their consumer’s rights for a while.

Property owners don’t lose their home or their property unless they’ve made bad business decisions. These are often based on greed.

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You are not entitled to consumer protections for something you haven't paid for. You could argue that is also greed.

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Counterclaims. When property owners fail to fulfill their contracts or comply with health code regulations and rent is withheld.

Consumer protections are not entitlements, they are rights by law.

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Cause.

You are adding every type of eviction to bolster your argument. I spent every Thursday for five years in housing court so I fully understand how it works and have seen just about every story there is. There are criminal repercussions for being a bad landlord yet there are none for being a bad tenant. The system needs an overhaul to protect both side equally from bad players.

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…. landlord actions that are crimes.
Death of tenants from carbon monoxide poisoning due to lack of heating system maintenance for one.

For all your supposed time spent in housing court, you still fail to understand basic consumer law.

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