Gov. Carney’s FY 2024 budget supports right to representation for renters facing eviction
DOVER, Del. – Last week, Governor John Carney introduced his recommended Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which included significant funding to address housing issues.
$1.5 million of the housing budget is said to be dedicated to policing initiatives, which includes “funding to support a tenant’s right to representation in eviction proceedings”. In the wake of the pandemic, many families who faced financial devastation due to loss of work and loss of loved ones to COVID-19 have been served eviction notices. In the state of Delaware, 86% of landlords have legal representation in court eviction proceedings, but only 2% of renters have representation. Without legal assistance, many renters are not able to maintain their housing or settle financial disputes in fair and equitable ways.
In a recent public briefing and letter to the General Assembly, the ACLU of Delaware named the Right to Representation as one of its key legislative priorities for 2023.
Of the $101.5 million budgeted for overall housing investment, Governor Carney’s staff said, “The $1.5 million is dedicated to policy initiatives that the administration is in full support of.”
Earlier this month, Senate Bill 1 was introduced by Senator Bryan Townsend, with additional sponsorship from Senators Hoffner and Pinkney, and Representatives Minor-Brown and Lambert. This proposed bill would guarantee a right to representation for low-income renters facing eviction whose household income is lower than 200% of federal poverty guidelines. It would also require landlords to provide notice of the right to representation at certain stages of a tenancy and in eviction proceedings.
SB is a modification of SB 101, introduced in 2021. The original bill passed the Senate that year, however, it was defeated by a House vote of 16 to 23 in 2022.
Some key changes to the original legislation are included in SB 1, including:
- Renters have a right to representation when they received notice that they must vacate their unit, as well as when they receive notice that rent is past due, they have violated their lease, an eviction proceeding is initiated, or when their subsidy is terminated
- Small landlords are now exempt from the program’s requirements if they own three or fewer units and are not using a lawyer or agent
- The Justice of the Peace Court will run the Eviction Diversion Program rather than the Attorney General’s Office
- Delaware Volunteer Legal Services will coordinate the program rather than the Attorney General’s Office as a cost-saving measure
- Military veterans and active-duty members have been added to the list of groups given priority for representation if there is not sufficient funding for universal representation