June 14, 2023
Historic Renters’ Right to Representation Bill Passes Delaware General Assembly
Delaware becomes fourth state in U.S. to provide right to representation for renters facing eviction
Today, the Delaware General Assembly passed historic legislation ensuring low-income renters a right to representation in eviction actions, making Delaware only the fourth state in the nation to provide this important right to renters in both public and private housing.
The legislation, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1 (SS 1 for SB 1), introduced by Sen. Bryan Townsend, provides representation for renters facing eviction whose household income is lower than 200% of federal poverty guidelines. It also creates an eviction diversion program designed to help resolve payment or other issues after a landlord files for eviction, enabling more Delaware families to remain in their homes.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in March, and an amended version of the bill passed the House on June 13. It returned to the Senate for a final vote on the amended version and passed this afternoon. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.
This legislation is urgently needed, as renters across the state face a critical shortage of affordable housing and rising eviction rates, which are quickly approaching pre-pandemic levels. The Delaware Right to Representation for Eviction Defense Coalition, a statewide partnership of organizations and advocates including Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI), the ACLU of Delaware, the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League/H.O.M.E.S. Campaign, Housing Alliance Delaware, and Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has been working with lawmakers to enact right to representation legislation since it was first introduced by Sen. Townsend in 2021.
Until now, only 2% of renters have had representation in court eviction proceedings compared to 86% of landlords, according to a study by the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research & Service. Lack of representation disproportionately impacts communities of color and those who lack the ability to go to court due to employment, childcare, or transportation restrictions. The damaging long-term effects of eviction include poorer physical and mental health, increased risk of homelessness and loss of employment, and greater difficulty finding future housing.
“A right to representation gives renters a fighting chance at keeping safe and stable housing long-term—a fundamental human need for every person,” says Javonne Rich, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the ACLU of Delaware. “This is a housing justice issue, a racial justice issue, and an economic justice issue.”
“It is hard to overstate the importance of the passage of this bill,” says Daniel Atkins, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. “Until now, Delaware had one of the five highest eviction rates in the country. Once this bill is fully implemented, more families will have a fair shot at avoiding eviction and homelessness, and cases will be resolved more quickly, amicably, and efficiently. Guaranteed representation benefits everyone—the courts, landlords, families, and low-income communities most affected by evictions. We look forward to ensuring that this initiative is implemented effectively.”
“By passing this legislation today, the General Assembly has made housing more stable for hundreds of Delaware families who otherwise would have been unfairly evicted based entirely on their inability to afford adequate legal counsel,” said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, prime sponsor of SS 1 for SB 1. “Helping those families stay in their homes will help parents stay employed, help children stay in school, and reduce the costs that ripple across our economy, our healthcare system and our courts. I want to thank the housing advocates who worked tirelessly over the last two years to get this bill through the Legislature and on to Governor John Carney for his signature.”
“Facing the loss of your home is a traumatic event that can have devastating impacts on families and individuals. The impact of this type of disruption can last a lifetime and lead to costs that ripple through our economy, our health care and criminal justice systems, and our society,” said House Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown. “Given the current state of housing in Delaware, residents deserve fair representation in these matters. SB 1 is a bold step to ensure that those facing eviction who most need a fair hearing get that representation to ensure their voices are heard and their concerns are raised. I’m grateful to everyone who worked to make this a strong, fair bill that will help keep a roof over people’s heads.”
Introduced by Sen. Townsend, SS 1 for SB 1 was additionally sponsored by Sen. Kyra Hoffner, Sen. Marie Pinkney, Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, Rep. Kendra Johnson, Rep. Larry Lambert, and Rep. William Bush.
Delaware joins three other states—Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington—in passing right to representation legislation, and fifteen cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland, New York City, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Minnesota also passed a limited right to representation bill in May, providing assistance to public housing tenants.
Housing advocates and coalition partners are grateful to Sen. Townsend and Rep. Minor-Brown for their leadership, and to Gov. John Carney for his vocal support of SS 1 for SB 1, which included recommended funding for a right to representation in his FY 2024 budget. We also thank each lawmaker who sponsored and voted for this bill, and all of the renters, community partners, and government officials who testified in support.
Once signed into law, this legislation will be phased in over a three-year period. Representation will be provided by attorneys at Delaware’s three legal aid agencies, as well as non-attorney Qualified Tenant Advocates (QTAs) under Delaware Supreme Court Rule 57.1, who will be trained and supervised by legal aid attorneys.
The Delaware Right to Representation for Eviction Defense Coalition includes the following members and supporters of SS 1 for SB 1: