Princeton University’s Eviction Lab measures eviction rates around the country—and Delaware’s is particularly concerning. Eviction Lab estimates that Delaware’s eviction rate (evictions per renter household) is 5.1%, 2 points higher than the national average, and its eviction filings rate (eviction filings per renter household) is 16%, about four times the national average.
There is an adage in administrative law that every system is designed perfectly to get the result it gets. In Delaware, the eviction process was designed to be cheap, quick, and easy. And that it is—it costs just $45 to file for an eviction, landlord companies do not need to retain a lawyer to represent them in court (their property managers can do so), and a writ of possession can be issued within 6 weeks of filing.
Delaware’s three legal aid agencies- CLASI, DVLS, and LSCD—are working together to reimagine the eviction defense ecosystem. Before the pandemic—together—we were able to help fewer than 5% of the tenants facing evictions. Landlords, on the other hand, received representation in court—either from a lawyer or their property managers—87% of the time. This asymmetry in representation frustrates the pursuit of justice—it serves nobody’s interest to have so few tenants represented—not the tenants, not the court, not even the landlords (lawyers help tenants understand and comply with the law, make good on deals, and access necessary resources).
Working closely with the Delaware State Housing Authority to ensure our state doesn’t experience an evictions crisis, we have a unique opportunity to access federal stimulus funds to improve our systems, fund additional landlord-tenant staffing through 2025, and also help struggling tenants and their landlords to access rental assistance.
We need help — a lot of it. We need lawyers to represent tenants. These lawyers could be staff lawyers, full time or part time; paid private contract attorneys or firms; and volunteers through DVLS who take on one case at a time, or longer term volunteers at CLASI and LSCD. If you are interested in getting involved, supporting a worthy cause, and addressing an issue that could devastate low income communities in Delaware, please reach out to me at [email protected], This is your chance to make a real difference in the lives of our fellow Delawareans.
Daniel G. Atkins, Esq.
Community Legal Aid Society, inc.