Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help support healthy living environments. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Reducing the likelihood of eviction: In most jurisdictions, tenants have no right to legal representation in eviction proceedings. By providing free legal services to tenants facing eviction, nonprofits and local governments can reduce the likelihood that tenants are evicted.

  • Employing a proper legal defense: Lawyers can assist tenants facing eviction with identifying legal defenses that they may be unaware of. These may include illegal rent charges, improper notice of eviction, instances of retaliation or discrimination, among others. Lawyers may also negotiate with the landlord and their attorney to reach an agreement under which the tenant can remain housed.

  • Varied access to legal services: In most jurisdictions, legal services for tenants facing eviction are provided by legal aid organizations. However, such organizations are rarely able to meet the demand for legal representation. As such, some states and local governments have passed right-to-counsel legislation, which guarantees individuals full representation for eviction proceedings. In these cases, government agencies may provide legal services directly or through contracts with local law firms and legal aid societies.

  • Taking a targeted versus comprehensive approach: In some jurisdictions, legal services are available to any tenant facing eviction. However, many legal aid societies and right-to-counsel laws limit services to vulnerable groups, such as those below a certain income level or to households with children. In either case, service providers may connect clients with other social services (e.g., housing counseling) to promote long-term housing stability.

Cost per Participant
Not available

Multiple studies with rigorous designs provide some evidence for legal support for tenants as a strategy for reducing evictions.

  • Collect data to illustrate the problem: Eviction can have a serious negative impact on an individual’s economic, social, and health outcomes. Collecting data to illustrate the scale of the eviction problem in a jurisdiction can build support for action to reduce the rate of evictions. Such data also lay the groundwork for assessing the cost savings a community may see from reducing evictions (e.g., through lower usage of emergency housing services).

  • Develop an outreach plan: For tenants to access legal services in a timely fashion, they need to be aware that they exist and of how to access them. Local governments and legal aid societies should conduct outreach to tenants (e.g., through know-your-rights workshops) to familiarize them with the program. Through right-to-counsel legislation, jurisdictions can also require courts or landlords to notify tenants of their right to legal representation and the process to access it.

  • Maintain broad eligibility criteria: When possible, legal services should be available to all tenants facing eviction, regardless of income level. For tenants, requirements to provide documentation demonstrating eligibility may present a barrier that will reduce the uptake of services. Additionally, by providing services universally, public support for the initiative may be higher.

  • Connect clients to other services: Ultimately, legal support for tenants facing eviction is an emergency measure. To reduce tenants’ long-term risk of eviction, implementing organizations should develop relationships with social service providers, such as those providing housing counseling services. By developing a clear referral process, more tenants can benefit from services that may increase their residential stability.