Free lawyers for tenants?

This great-sounding idea is totally wrong. Two bills at the State House would give “indigent” tenants free lawyers during evictions. 

When does eviction usually happen? 95% of evictions are for tenants not paying rent. First, that immediately qualifies them as indigent. Second, what will be the impact of a free lawyer for a nonpaying tenant? A much lo-o-o-o-onger period of free rent for the tenant, even more lost income for the owner, and no change in the final outcome – the tenant is evicted.

How many lawyers does it take to figure out if a tenant has or has not paid the rent? Can’t a judge (also a lawyer) do this determination fairly easily without needing a tenant attorney to help him/her?

Where does nonpayment occur most often? In lower-income neighborhoods, where rents are already low and owners operate on very thin margins. What will be the impact on lower-income housing that gets deprived of rental income for yet longer periods of time? Higher rents for good-paying tenants. Or fewer repairs, more deterioration, more units and houses taken off the market, more owners abandoning their properties. 

Do small owners of lower-income housing with nonpaying tenants come to court with lawyers? Of course not. Free lawyers will tip the balance and crush small landlords. Free lawyers, they say, will discourage evictions. Yes, but is this good? It may promote erratic rent payment or bad behavior not worth the high cost of eviction: damage to units, drug dealing, prostitution, fights – not good for the other tenants nor landlords. Free lawyers, they say, will stop owners evicting for frivolous reaons. Already, given the cost of eviction in time, effort, and a vacant unit, owners never evict for frivolous reasons.

The free tenant lawyers proposing this idea know it will work exactly as we say here. But they believe in socialized housing owned by government or taxpayer-funded nonprofits. They want to DESTROY the private rental market.

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