July 02, 2024

Van Hollen Joins Booker, Colleagues to Introduce Legislation to Protect Tenants at Risk of Eviction

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in intoducing legislation to empower tenants and help support housing security in communities across the United States. The Eviction Right to Counsel Act of 2024 establishes a fund to provide grants to state, local, and Tribal governments that enact legislation ensuring legal representation to tenants who are at risk of eviction, with a focus on low-income people.

The legislation also encourages jurisdictions to enact additional tenant protections. The new program prioritizes funding to jurisdictions that establish notice periods, just cause laws, emergency rental assistance programs, and eviction diversion programs. Incentivizing jurisdictions to establish a right to counsel in eviction proceedings, while also enacting these related tenant protections, will empower renters and help them to achieve more secure, safe and stable housing, reduce eviction rates, and provide a substantial return on investment by keeping people housed.  

The Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, that allows for the adoption of policies that further criminalize poverty and homelessness, underscores the urgent need to direct resources to jurisdictions that are taking steps to protect vulnerable tenants, prevent the cycle of housing insecurity, and invest in proven, cost-effective strategies that reduce the strain on homelessness and housing services in communities. In addition to investments we must be making in counseling and healthcare services, addiction treatment, boosting our supply of affordable housing, and providing emergency rental assistance, the Eviction Right to Counsel Act of 2024 is an urgently needed step to support communities across the country that are working to provide safe and secure housing for all Americans.    

“Working families living paycheck to paycheck often struggle just to keep up with the high cost of housing, let alone defend themselves in eviction proceedings. That’s why we’re fighting to invest in greater access to legal representation for tenants under threat of eviction. A guaranteed right to counsel will help empower Americans facing wrongful eviction to keep their homes,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Our nation is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” said Senator Booker. “Americans are facing high rent prices and, in many cases, are left defenseless against eviction or the threat of eviction. Black renters are disproportionately burdened by eviction, being filed against at more than five times the rate of white renters. Increasing the representation and protections for all tenants at risk of eviction will make housing more fair and equitable while also providing some needed relief to overburdened housing services in communities across the country. This is more important than ever in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Grants Pass that criminalizes homelessness, exacerbates the plight of those struggling to maintain stable, safe housing, and puts added pressure on local communities that are doing the right thing and taking steps to provide critical services to those most in need.”

“When tenants don’t have legal representation, landlords can wrongfully kick them out of their home and actually sell the house under them to the highest bidder,” said Senator Wyden. “Legal representation programs in places like Oregon protect renters from unfair evictions, maintain housing stability, and reduce homelessness. Senator Booker’s bill is a crucial measure that puts power back into the hands of tenants as our country faces a dire shortage of affordable housing.”

The number of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent has risen dramatically over the last two decades. While pandemic-era eviction protections shielded renters during the 2020 economic downturn, those protections have slowly ended, forcing renters back into a market with soaring prices. Today, half of all renters in America struggle to pay their rent. This impossible situation has forced renters out of their homes, leaving them struggling, oftentimes with nowhere to go. 

The Eviction Right to Counsel Act of 2024 would:

  • Authorizes the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to create a grant program for state governments, local governments, or Indian Tribal governments that enact right to counsel legislation. 
  • Define "covered individuals" as tenants with income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. 
  • Cover civil actions in court or administrative forums related to:
    • Eviction: This includes cases where tenants are at risk of being forcibly removed from their primary residence.
    • Termination of Housing Subsidy: This includes cases where housing subsidies that help tenants afford their homes are being terminated often resulting in a de facto eviction.
  • Establishes a program where jurisdiction that pass "right to counsel legislation” are eligible to apply for federal funding. Under this program, full legal representation must be provided at no cost to covered individuals involved in covered proceedings—helping to expand access to legal representation during eviction or housing subsidy termination cases.
  • Prioritize the allocation of grants to eligible entities that have enacted related tenant protections. These laws may limit the reasons for eviction, provide longer notice periods before eviction, or focus on tenant rights and protections.
  • Allow eligible entities receiving grants to use the funds to cover various costs associated with implementing the right to counsel legislation. This includes expenses related to attorney training and resources necessary for representing covered individuals in covered proceedings.
  • Authorize $100 million per year over 5 years for the eviction right to counsel fund.

This legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.),  Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

To read the full text of the bill, click here