What is Free Eviction Help?

Everyone is familiar with the Miranda rights thanks to television crime shows – “You have the right to an attorney.” Our constitution ensures access to no-cost legal counsel when someone is accused of a serious crime and cannot afford an attorney. Yet many do not realize there is no such constitutional right to legal counsel in housing cases — even if the cases lead to homelessness.

 Legal Aid, a private nonprofit, works to help as many people as possible with eviction cases.  Now, thanks to COVID-19 federal funding via Cuyahoga County, there are more resources available for more people to get legal representation from Legal Aid.  For our community, Legal Aid is working together with United Way to do outreach and provide help to people facing eviction.

Free Eviction Help provides legal help to tenants facing eviction so those tenants may stay in their homes or locate better housing, stay out of emergency shelters, and keep their children in school. A lawyer can help a tenant improve housing conditions, and avoid eviction and homelessness.  Families helped also may receive information about resources for rental assistance, case management, access to food, and other important services.

Why is Legal Help Important?

Housing is a basic human need and the starting point for economic opportunity. A safe, stable home serves as a foundation for healthy families and is the nexus of thriving communities. Yet, too many families living in poverty are being evicted. For instance, in Cuyahoga County – there are an estimated 20,000 evictions annually.  An eviction can be devastating for a family. Research shows that unstable housing circumstances such as homelessness, multiple moves, and rent strain are associated with adverse health outcomes for caregivers and young children. These adverse health outcomes include maternal depression, increased child lifetime hospitalizations, poor child overall health, and poor caregiver health.

Studies show that tenants who receive full legal representation in eviction cases are more likely to stay in their homes and save on rent or fees. When tenants have full legal representation in an eviction case, they can participate meaningfully in the eviction proceedings and achieve better outcomes.

How Does Free Eviction Help Work?

If you think you qualify for help, contact The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (Legal Aid) immediately at 216-861-5835.  You can also apply through the 2-1-1 chat box/phone number.  After a quick screening, a lawyer will be in contact with you to gather more information and explain next steps.

If you did not hear about free eviction help before your court date, you still may be able to get legal help on the day of your eviction hearing.  For Cleveland Housing Court, ask the Court at your hearing you would like a lawyer assigned to you. The Court or an Legal Aid contact will ask you a few questions to make sure that you are eligible for the program. The Court may continue (postpone) your hearing to give you time to meet with your lawyer.  If you are in another suburban court (not Cleveland), you can click on this link and print/fill out this form to present to the Court and ask for your case to be continued.

A Local Injustice with a Scalable Solution

In July 2020, the City of Cleveland became the 4th city in the United States to create a “right to counsel” in certain eviction cases.  A right to counsel in eviction cases can help many people overcome barriers to employment and economic opportunity. It may not guarantee that every eviction will be avoided, because some evictions are lawful. However, it could ensure that a significant number of low-income people who should not be evicted are not, and that those who need to move can do so with a soft landing.  With free, high-quality legal representation from Legal Aid, Northeast Ohio families living in poverty and facing eviction can secure safe, affordable and stable housing.

What is Right to Counsel – Cleveland?

While Free Eviction Help is available to many people in Cuyahoga County, there is actually a right to free legal counsel in Cleveland Housing Court for certain eviction cases.

In 2018, The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, in partnership with the Innovation Mission of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, created the Housing Justice Alliance, whose primary goal was to establish a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.  In October 2019, Cleveland City Council, under the leadership of Council President Kevin Kelley, proposed and unanimously passed legislation that established free legal counsel as a right for families living at or below the federal poverty level and facing eviction.  Through unique public-private partnerships including the City of Cleveland, United Way and Legal Aid, the RTC-C was born.

Beyond legal representation in eviction cases in Cleveland Housing Court, RTC-C helps families by directing them to additional resources they may need, including food, utility assistance (gas, electric, water) and money to help pay rent. Help is available through many organizations including  Cleveland Housing Network’s Housing Partner’s Family Stability Initiative, which United Way of Greater Cleveland has funded since 2014, and Emerald Development & Economic Network (EDEN), which supports RTC-C by providing rental assistance. RTC-C also connects tenants in need to other available resources through United Way’s 2-1-1 HelpLink, a free and confidential 24/7 service.

Right to Counsel – Cleveland (RTC-C) gives eligible low-income Cleveland tenants free legal representation in eviction hearings in Cleveland Housing Court. To qualify, a tenant’s income must be at or below the federal poverty guideline, and the tenant must have at least one child in their household. Tenants who qualify for RTC-C will be assigned a lawyer to represent them in their eviction.  The lawyer will appear in court with the tenant and present the tenant’s case. The RTC-C lawyer may also be able to negotiate an agreement with the landlord to resolve the case without a court hearing. The RTC-C lawyer also may help the tenant access rent assistance and other resources.