A Looming Eviction Tidal Wave Brings Pro Bono Opportunities for New Lawyers

Keeshea Turner Roberts
As we enter our ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, renters and homeowners continue to feel the pandemic’s effects.

As we enter our ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, renters and homeowners continue to feel the pandemic’s effects.

AntonioGuillem via iStock

For additional opportunities to help with the eviction crisis in various states, visit the ABA COVID-19 Pro Bono Bar Network.

Attention law graduates and newly licensed attorneys: your talents and knowledge are needed! As we enter our ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, renters and homeowners alike continue to feel the effects of the pandemic across the nation.

Eviction Tidal Wave

On September 4, 2020, the Centers on Disease Control (CDC) issued a nationwide moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. Simply put, a landlord, owner of a residential property, or any other person with a legal right to pursue an eviction cannot evict a tenant because of his or her failure to pay rent. However, this relief is only available to tenants who have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have made efforts to seek financial assistance. In addition to the nationwide moratorium, many states and localities have implemented their own moratoriums on evictions and in other areas such as utility shut-off moratoriums, each with their own requirements. However, as 2020 ends and 2021 begins, many moratoriums, including the CDC moratorium, are set to expire. For more information about the eviction and other moratorium policies nationwide, please visit Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. With the expiration of these moratoriums, the eviction process in many states will start up again. It is estimated that as many as 40 million people face eviction due to the inability to pay rent

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Effects of Eviction

You may ask yourself, why is there such a concern about evictions. Scholars have linked eviction as the “key driver of housing instability, homelessness, and poverty.” Tenants who are evicted from their residences find it more challenging to find safe and affordable housing in the future. Further, eviction filings negatively impact tenants’ credit and public reports and result in family instability. They are especially damaging to children’s health and educational development. Evictions have “detrimental consequences for children, families and neighborhoods as it disrupts social ties, interrupts peer networks and generates a loss of community.”

In the District of Columbia, the eviction crisis is acute. Before the pandemic, many low-income families were at high risk for eviction. Of the District’s 163,000 renters, almost half spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Further, many evictions are filed against tenants who reside in Wards 7 and 8, which are communities of color. Since the enactment of the moratorium in March, landlords were prohibited from filing any eviction complaints. However, it is expected that “39,000 evictions are in line to be filed in DC Superior Court as soon the eviction moratorium lifts” at the end of January 2021.

How You Can Help

In response to the pending eviction tidal wave, legal services providers, Access to Justice Commissions, and bar associations nationwide have developed tools and training to assist attorneys, non-barred attorneys, and law students who are interested in working on eviction cases. As a volunteer, you can litigate eviction cases in court, educate communities about evictions and the eviction process in your jurisdiction, and advocate locally or nationally for policies such as extending the eviction moratorium or creating robust rental funding assistance programs. Many of these organizations will provide free training, mentorship with a seasoned housing law practitioner, and in some instances, malpractice insurance for barred attorneys.

In the District of Columbia, the DC Bar Pro Bono Center hosts training sessions throughout the year for attorneys and paralegals who wish to undertake pro bono assignments from the Center or other area legal services providers. Similarly, the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono has a guide for attorneys, law graduates, and law students that provides information about volunteer opportunities nationwide. 

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo called on Congress to immediately pass a renewed moratorium on housing evictions and provide essential economic relief to rental property owners.

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Keeshea Turner Roberts is an adjunct clinical law professor at Howard University School of Law’s Fair Housing Clinic located in Washington, DC.