Baltimore City Councilman Introduces ‘Tenant Legal Assistance Fund’ Bill

Baltimore City Councilman Robert Stokes has introduced a bill to help fund legal assistance for low-income tenants facing disputes with their landlords.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

If Councilman Robert Stokes’ bill is approved, the city would ask voters to amend the city charter in next year’s election to establish a Tenant Legal Assistance Fund and authorize the mayor and council to dedicate money to it.

The fund would help pay for lawyers to represent tenants in Baltimore’s rent court, where most renters arrive without attorneys to face landlords who almost always have some form of representation. It would also “provide legal assistance to low-income renters facing eviction,” assist renters in disputes with landlords and try to make renters more aware of their legal rights.

The bill calls for financing the fund with dedicated city revenue — fines and fees — plus grants from private foundations and charities.

A Baltimore Sun investigation this year showed that the city spends twice as much on processing evictions than it does on working to prevent them, as the city experiences one of the highest rates of evictions in the nation.

Baltimore spent $2.7 million in fiscal year 2016 for sheriff’s deputies to oversee nearly 70,000 eviction orders, while allocating $1.3 million for services to prevent evictions or homelessness.

The city reported preventing 68 evictions in fiscal year 2016 with the $130,000 it gave Maryland Legal Aid. It provided $35,000 to the Public Justice Center, which reported preventing 40 evictions.

There is support in City Hall for increasing funding for tenant lawyers.

Read the full article in The Baltimore Sun to learn more.