A January 2021 report by the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic at The University of Tulsa College of Law highlights the benefits of a right to counsel program in promoting just outcomes in Tulsa’s eviction court and alleviating the public costs of Tulsa’s high eviction rates.
The authors of the report – Leveling the Playing Field: Legal, Economic and Policy Considerations in Establishing an Access to Counsel Program for Tulsa’s Eviction Docket – noted that roughly 90% of tenants in eviction proceedings are not represented. Without an attorney, tenants cannot exercise their rights to be heard and to a fair and impartial tribunal, which are integral elements of due process.
“Studies across the U.S. show that right to counsel programs in eviction court result in cost savings for cities,” said Roni Amit, director of the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic. “Without an attorney, individuals are unable to truly have their day in court before facing eviction. Society recognizes the harm to individuals of not having a lawyer in criminal court, but the effects of losing one’s home are also very dire and may be long-lasting.”
Leveling the Playing Field underscores the fact that a high eviction rate affects not only those who are displaced, but reverberates throughout the city’s neighborhoods, communities and schools. Evictions also impose costs on city resources linked to public health, social assistance and public safety. The report outlines the legal, social and financial benefits of developing a right to counsel program on Tulsa’s eviction docket.
“When individuals are evicted, they lose the stability of their neighborhoods and communities, which results in increased reliance on government resources. The displacement has lasting effects on the physical and mental health of individuals, including children who face lost education, lower earning potential and long-term mental health effects. These effects are going to be magnified during the current COVID-19 crisis,” Amit said.
“Under the outstanding direction of Professor Roni Amit, the Terry West Civil Legal Clinic is making an important and powerful impact on justice and individuals’ ability to access justice in our community,” noted Lyn S. Entzeroth, dean of TU’s College of Law.
“This report could not be more timely, as Tulsa faces the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on renters, and the federal government has just made additional rental assistance available,” said Katie Dilks, executive director of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation. “In order to make sure renters are truly helped by that assistance, legal representation is crucial.”