This section is excerpted from the book “How to Stop an Eviction” available on this website
There are numerous sources of free or low-cost assistance for people facing eviction. Additionally, the book teaches you strategies to defeat the landlord’s attempts to evict you. Using those strategies in conjunction with legal assistance is a one-two punch that should spell success.
Here are the main sources of eviction assistance from the book.
Where to find affordable legal assistance
Fortunately there are numerous avenues to pursue in getting up to speed on the issues that will impact your eviction. You are not alone in this fight. I will list out for you a large number of sources of legal assistance. You can tap into many of these sources at no to low cost. There is a tradition in the law of fighting on behalf of the underdog against the wealthy entrenched powers and the group of people and organizations I am going to point you to strongly believe in assisting the underdog.
A large number of attorneys initially decided to attend law school because they wanted to make sure that people they represented got justice and the amount of money the client could pay was often secondary.
Tenant associations or tenant unions
These exist in many cities around the country, usually in larger urban areas. To find them go to your favorite search engine and type in [your city or county] + “tenant assistance” OR “tenant associations” OR “tenant unions” Depending upon the syntax of your search engine you might have to play around with several variations of your city and county plus some version of tenant assistance or an association. You’ll know very quickly whether or not one of these exists for your area. If so contact them. Because this group is highly organized on tenant issues they will be an invaluable resource to you if they exist in your area. If you are fortunate enough to have this type of organization available to you, skip all the research on the state statutes and local ordinances because this type of organization is familiar with all that. But do the rest of the research with all the rest of the organizations (Secretary of State etc.)
This is a nationwide nonprofit organization that assists those in need of representation. They will do a great job of representing you but unlike the previous group they are not tenant-specific. They may have to know many areas of the law not just landlord tenant law. To find them just put [your city or county’ plus "legal aid" in the search engine. You might also use the term "legal services" in place of "legal aid" Just play with a couple of combinations and you will find them if they exist in your area. Other names for these groups are tenant organizations, tenant-landlord programs, housing clinics, or tenant's rights attorneys. Here is a good example of the type of booklets that they produce for their clients. http://www.legalaidwestmich.org/library_client/ Look under Housing, then How to Fight Eviction, a Do-it-Yourself Guide.
Eviction prevention program
This is a federally funded program that helps tens of thousands of low and moderate income people every year. That is supplemented both state government and local funds. The program is managed at the local city and county level by local government organizations, charities and community action agencies. The federal government funding is provided by the Emergency Shelter Grant as well as the Community Development Block Grant.
These folks provide money to people who are facing eviction up to one month’s rent which may be supplemented by other agencies’ funds. As such they do not provide a defense against eviction. However they are undoubtedly wired into all the agencies that do. So there might be a resource both for your own monetary needs as well as resources to call to assist in your defense.
Law school outreach
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area with a law school see if they have an outreach program where you can get some assistance from a law school upperclassman. While these people are still students they already have more training in legal issues than you do and are oftentimes looking for opportunities to apply their legal training to the real world.
Private attorneys doing volunteer work
Many attorneys do volunteer work just like other professions, such as doctors doing free screening or accountants doing free taxes. If you are fortunate enough to have this type of volunteer available to you latch onto it with both hands.
who are trained to do this type of work. Mediators may be attorneys or not attorneys. Even if not attorneys if they have experience in landlord-tenant law as well as conflict resolution they can be very valuable to you
Pro bono attorneys
These are attorneys in private practice who have volunteered to do free work on behalf of clients with limited funds. Once I was up against a pro bono attorney from the biggest and best law firm in town when I was trying to evict one of my tenants. Needless to say, I went down in flames.
Online "ask an attorney" chat lines.
When you are online doing research you will sometimes see things like "16 attorneys online now. Ask your question" While you can get a general question answered for free you have to bear in mind that these attorneys are generally in a different jurisdiction and are not familiar with the statutes in your area. What they can do is give you a generalized answer and/or point you in a more specific direction. And they are great for educating you about legal concepts.
Local apartment association attorneys
If you live in an area that is large enough to have an Apartment Association, this is a group of all of the landlords. The law firm that represents these landlords will be among the best landlord-tenant lawyers in your town. Find out which law firm that is. Then call that law firm and ask them if they also represent tenants in the eviction courts. Oftentimes they do not. But if they do you can be assured that they will be among your best choices. However, this is a double-edged sword. This is like asking a prosecutor to do defense work. Because they are so pro-landlord every day it is sometimes hard for them to switch hats. Also they don't want to jeopardize their normal work on behalf of landlords by doing "too good" a job for you. They might also have a conflict of interest if they are representing your landlord. So be careful if you call one of these folks.
Put [your city] +” landlord tenant attorneys” ] in your favorite search engines and you will get a list of firms that work in this area. You definitely want a specialist in landlord-tenant law to represent you because the rules and regulations in landlord tenant law are often specialized just as they are in other areas of the law. They will also be familiar with the rules of that court and the judges who try the eviction cases and that is a big advantage over other attorneys who don’t practice before those judges every day.
Clerks in the office where the evictions are filed
This group is an absolute goldmine of information because they know the procedures intimately, where cases go under which circumstances, which forms are filled out by landlords, tenants, the timelines for evictions, everything. They also are oftentimes emotionally sympathetic to tenants rather than landlords. This is a group of people that you are going to want to get to know very well. My recommendation is that this is one of your first stops in your eviction defense.
Visit this office and see if there is a guidebook or tenant handbook. Get them to give you one of all the forms that you might be able to file and get them to tell you under which circumstance they are filed. Here is one thing that you need to know about this group of people. Tenants and landlords, because of the expertise of this group, are always soliciting free advice from the clerks in the eviction office. The local bar association does not like them giving free legal advice because it is considered an unauthorized practice of law since they are not attorneys. Many clerks in eviction offices have had their hands slapped for giving advice and consequently will be leery about telling you “what you should do” because that is giving advice that could be considered legal advice. That is why I tell you to get a copy of the forms and ask them to tell you when each is filled out. They can do that without “practicing law.” And that information will be invaluable. I will come back to this group of people numerous times as we go through your strategies.
Now, what about you? You are facing an eviction action or you would not be on this page looking for assistance. Are there any other sources of eviction assistance that you have run across that aren’t covered on this page? If so, enter a comment below and I will update this page (and the book from which it came). Let’s hear from the readers.