Pro Bono News

Legal Groups Propose Help for Detroit Tenants Facing Eviction (MI)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Legal Groups Propose Help for Detroit Tenants Facing Eviction

"Poor renters in Detroit would be guaranteed legal help to fight evictions under a proposal being pitched by an influential group of lawyers and business leaders next month.

The "Detroit Eviction Right To Counsel Summit" will be held March 12 and include local and national experts along with tenants facing evictions. They are expected to lay out the costs and benefits of adopting a program similar to one established two years ago in New York City.

The summit's sponsors are a collection of more than 20 organizations, including the State Bar of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, several Michigan laws schools and Ford Motor Co., organizers said.

In a 2017 investigation, The Detroit News found families in one out of five Detroit rentals face eviction every year and that the vast majority of landlords who took their renters to court were themselves operating illegally.

"It's really an uneven playing field," said Joon Sung, Lakeshore Legal Aid's Chief Litigation Officer, whose nonprofit is one of a handful that represent renters in Detroit.

Evictions can lead to job loss, exacerbate health problems and add to the learning challenges faced by children who must switch schools, backers say. Providing legal help to renters could lessen unnecessary or improper evictions, which add costs for homeless shelters, courts and health care providers.

"Every case I saw was extreme," said Kim Ray, an attorney with Ford Credit North America who began volunteering last year with legal aid groups in Detroit's 36th District Court. "Without a lawyer, the tenants just don't know what their rights are."

She said she faced off against landlords seeking evictions while refusing to fix exposed electrical wiring, a gaping hole in a child's bedroom ceiling, broken kitchen appliances and rat infestations. One family could only keep food in their refrigerator to keep the rats at bay, she said..."

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