Saud Anwar

State Senator

Saud Anwar

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working For You

May 25, 2021

“Right to Counsel” Bill Providing Low-Income Tenants with No-Cost, Legal Representation in Eviction Proceedings Approved by the Senate

Today, State Senator Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) joined the Senate in approving the transformative “Right to Counsel” bill to create a right to counsel program in Connecticut for low-income tenants and occupants. The program will provide them with no-cost, legal representation for eviction proceedings or an administrative proceeding needed to maintain a housing subsidy or prevent the end of a lease.

As part of the right to counsel program, a one-page clearly-worded notice will be created to inform tenants of their rights under the program. The bill’s approval comes at a time when an anticipated substantial amount of evictions is expected due to the lifting of eviction moratoriums and financial hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.

“We know that homelessness, and housing insecurity, have directly negative outcomes on individuals’ lives and their health,” said Sen. Anwar. “We also know that many instances where low-income tenants are at risk of eviction can be prevented. By adding the right to counsel to our state’s programs, we can protect individuals already at a disadvantage from the outset to gain a fairer defense and work to protect themselves. I’m grateful to my colleagues in supporting it.”

House Bill 6531, referred to as the “Right to Counsel” bill, will create a right to counsel program that is open to income eligible tenants, lessees, or occupants who are a party in an eviction proceeding or administrative proceeding meant to hold on to a federal or state housing subsidy or stop the proposed termination of a lease. A person is eligible for the right to counsel program if they meet one of the two criteria:

  • Have a household income at or lower than 80 percent of the Connecticut median income adjusted for family size, at the time the person is seeking legal representation. The median income is set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Receives an eligible type of public assistance including: SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, state rental assistance, or federal Housing Choice Voucher Program assistance

As part of their testimony in support of House Bill 6531, the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund said less than seven percent of tenants in Connecticut have legal representation in eviction proceedings. In comparison, over 80 percent of landlords have legal representation. This wide-gap in legal counsel leaves tenants and other renters at a disadvantage in proceedings from the onset.

Additionally, this program would provide access to legal representation for households who would otherwise struggle to afford legal counsel. 31 percent of renter households in Connecticut are extremely low income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. A sizeable portion of these households include seniors and individuals who are disabled.

One-Page Notice of Tenants’ Rights

The Judicial Branch with input from the Connecticut Bar Foundation, a working group established by House Bill 6531, and the not-for-profit legal services organizations providing the no-cost representation would develop a one-page clearly-worded notice that would educate tenants of their rights through the right to counsel program. Landlords, housing authorities, and housing subsidy program administrators would be required to attach the notice on several forms.

The forms the notice must be included with are: notice to quit delivered to a covered individual pursuant to an eviction proceeding, summons and complaint for a summary process eviction action, lease termination notice for a public or subsidized housing unit, and notice to terminate a state or federal housing subsidy. Also, a court would have to include similar wording of information in a mediation or hearing scheduling notice that is being sent to an individual that is representing themselves in an eviction proceeding.

Further, the notice would have to be available on the judicial branch’s website and through a phone number to seek information and apply for representation.

Establishing Right to Counsel Program

Federal funds will be provided to the Connecticut Bar Foundation to administer and oversee the program, which will then allocate the funds to various non-profit legal services organizations across the state to provide the direct representation.

The participating legal services organizations would have to meet several criteria including: extensive experience in housing and landlord tenant law and providing free, legal assistance to eligible recipients; a demonstrated history of assisting low-income individuals; and have an outreach plan to offer legal representation to individuals with limited English-fluency that are eligible for the program. The organizations can subcontract with a non-profit or community organization for purposes of providing legal representation and program outreach.

The Connecticut Bar Foundation, in collaboration with the working group, and organizations providing legal services through the right to counsel program, would plot out the implementation of the program based on factors including but not limited to: prioritizing certain income-level groups or zip codes, available program funds, and availability of trained attorneys.

The 11-person working group created by the bill would serve in an advisory role on policies and matters impacting the right to counsel program. The group would include appointments by the Senate majority and minority leaders, representatives for the administering entity and state judicial branch, and the commissioner for the state Department of Housing or their designee.