The National Movement

Right to Counsel is a National Movement

Right to Counsel laws are sweeping the nation. This is a national movement and Los Angeles should be next.

In 2017, the New York City Council passed the first tenant right to counsel law. In the June 2018 primary, San Francisco voters mandated the city government to establish a universal tenant right to counsel law. Newark codified the right to free legal counsel and created a new office of tenant legal services in 2018.  Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington DC, Detroit, Chicago, San Antonio; the states Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Minnesota are joining this movement. Los Angeles should be next. 

Right to Counsel is the proven mechanism policymakers across the country are introducing to stop displacement, preserve affordable housing, and keep people housed. 

After one-full year of Right to Counsel operating in 20 zip codes across New York City:

  • 84% of tenants who had a lawyer under RTC remained in their home
  • Zip codes with RTC accounted for 64% of the overall citywide decline in evictions
  • Evictions declined 5x faster in RTC zip codes than in non-RTC zip codes
  • The decline in evictions will only continue as RTC operates in more zip codes in NYC over time

Right to counsel works.

New York City

In 2014, the Right to Counsel Bill (Intro 214) was introduced in New York City Council in order to establish a city-funded right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings. After three years of organizing, the Right to Counsel was signed into law in August 2017, mandating universal access to legal representation for low-income tenants and making NYC the first city in the country to establish a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. The law is being phased in over 5 years. By July 2022, all low-income tenants in NYC will have a right to an attorney to defend their homes.

San Francisco

In June 2018, voters approved Proposition F, which mandated universal free legal representation for anyone facing eviction, regardless of income. San Francisco became the first city to pass such a law through a voter-approved initiative. Universal free legal representation was made available beginning July 1, 2019.


Newark Mayor, in December 2018, created a 15 member commission to oversee the equitable growth of the city and to prevent displacement of current residents. As a result, the city amended the Rent Control Newark Municipal Code by adding a new chapter entitled “the provision of legal services in eviction proceedings”.  The ordinance established the Office of Tenant Legal Services which provides free legal services in eviction proceeding for tenants at or below 200% of the federal poverty line through contracts with non-profit legal providers.


In March 2018, Philadelphia City Council president Darrell L. Clarke and members of Council proposed a Low-Income Tenant Legal Defense Fund for low-income tenants facing eviction.  The fund, proposed in the city’s budget for FY 2020, follows the recent Stout report commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association estimating significant cost savings by investing in a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction.


Council members Kevin J. Kelley (president) and Anthony Brancatelli took part in a City Club of Cleveland panel with two New York City council members who spearheaded the right to counsel legislation to ensure poor tenants had legal representation when facing eviction. Councilmember Tony Brancateli and Kevin Kelley stated that the Cleveland City Council will begin a multi-phase program to provide free legal representation for tenants facing eviction in 2019.

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