The Delaware Supreme Court has announced that the state will begin allowing non-attorney representation of residential tenants in eviction cases.
Currently, landlords are allowed to be represented by non-lawyer agents in eviction proceedings before the justice of the peace, but tenants are not.
Beginning March 1, qualified non-lawyer tenant advocates will be allowed to represent residential tenants in eviction cases free of charge.
Qualified tenant attorneys will be trained by one of Delaware’s three legal aid agencies and will remain under the supervision of a state legal aid attorney throughout a case.
The attorney can prosecute or defend eviction cases, engage in settlement negotiations, file court documents and other documents, and appear before the justice of the peace with the consent of the tenant.
But John Whitelaw, director of advocacy for the Community Legal Aid Society, says it will be months before Qualified Tenant Advocates are in action.
“So between a few months and the end of the year. We don’t have a specific timetable. People have to be hired for this, so we have to develop a training program, we have to hire staff, we have to train them , and then people can start going to court so it’s not a quick snap process,” Whitelaw said.
Whitelaw commends the Delaware Supreme Court for taking this step, but adds that it’s not the end of the road to solving Delaware’s eviction crisis.
ACLU Delaware Chief Legal Officer Susan Burke said it was a good first step toward fair treatment of tenants.
“The situation to date has been extremely unfair. 86% of landlords are represented in the proceedings, 2% of tenants. It’s just an extraordinary imbalance and so we really have to work hard to adjust this and make sure that no tenants is unrepresented when they are at risk of losing their home,” Burke said.
She adds that she would like to see more done on this issue and points to Senate Bill 101, which would establish a right to counsel in landlord-tenant matters.
This bill is currently at the Delaware House awaiting action.