What is Right to Counsel – Cleveland?

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.

What does Right to Counsel – Cleveland mean for tenants?

RTC-C provides legal help to Cleveland 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.

RTC-C families also may receive information about resources for rental assistance, case management, access to food, and other important services.

How does Right to Counsel – Cleveland work?

If you think you qualify for help through RTC-C, 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 RTC-C before your court date, you still may be able to get legal help on the day of your eviction hearing. Outside the courtroom, look for the RTC-C Legal Aid lawyer, or tell a member of the court staff that you would like a lawyer assigned to you. The Court or an RTC-C staff member 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 feel you and your family are in danger or in an unsafe living space, please call the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center 24-Hour HelpLine at 216-391-HELP(4357) immediately.

How did Right to Counsel – Cleveland begin?

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.