Why lawmakers want to protect people who may face eviction in Delaware
Democrats are trying to protect people who may face eviction in Delaware amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Bill 101 by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, would give the right to free legal counsel to people whose income is no more than twice the federal poverty guideline, which is determined and updated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill would also create a diversion program to resolve most landlord-tenant disputes before they result in legal action.
Another measure would set a floor on the money owed that can result in eviction proceedings: No action may be filed where the amount of rent owed is one month’s rent or less than $500, whichever is greater.
It would also let tenants stay in their homes if all back rent, fees and costs are paid before an eviction.
The bill would create a "Right to Counsel Coordinator" position appointed by the attorney general. The coordinator would be able to contract with nonprofits offering legal representation to qualifying tenants facing eviction.
What next for Delaware's eviction ban?
Thousands of people in Delaware are expected to face eviction proceedings once Gov. John Carney lifts his COVID-19 state of emergency, according to a Senate press release about the bill.
It's unclear when Carney would lift the state of emergency that he put in place more than a year ago to limit the spread of COVID-19. The state of emergency has included a moratorium on evictions to help people struggling to pay rent amid a stunted economy.
The governor's office did not immediately respond over whether Carney supports the bill.
The cost of the proposal could get in the way, though.
According to the bill's financial estimate, the legal services, plus other expenses, would cost the state $1.3 million by the first year, $2.1 million the next year and $3.6 million the year after that.
Nearly all tenants facing eviction in Delaware lack the representation of a lawyer, researchers at the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service found in a study published in April 2020. Only about 2% of tenants had a legal aid attorney compared with 86% of landlords who had representation from an attorney or an agent, they found.
Eviction filings, at $45 a case, are relatively cheap and easy for Delaware landlords, the researchers wrote.
Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass bills before the end of the legislative year. After that, they go on a six-month break.
Townsend, the bill sponsor, said during a press conference earlier this month that he hopes lawmakers will pass it before the session ends.
"We can't afford not to do this," Townsend said.
The 2021 federal poverty guidelines are:
- $12,880 for one person
- $26,500 for a family of four
- $31,040 for a family of five
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Larry Lambert, D-Claymont, said that, while most landlords are honorable and do their work aboveboard, lawmakers should feel an urgency to pass the bill now.
"There are landlords that have taken advantage of this pandemic," Lambert said.
The bill was filed on the same day that a federal judge struck down a national moratorium on evictions that was enacted last year to help Americans who have struggled to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden's administration vowed to appeal the ruling.
The Senate Housing Committee voted 4-0 in favor of the Delaware bill on Thursday. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee.
Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. Reach her at (302) 324-2281 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.