Study: Lack of legal representation hurts Denver tenants' chances in eviction cases

DENVER – Renters in Denver facing steadily increasing housing costs are vastly underrepresented in eviction court cases, greatly hurting their chances of staying in their homes, according to a new study.

The report from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Colorado Center for Law and Policy examined nearly 2,000 eviction cases between 2014 and 2016. The study included a mix of Denver Housing Authority cases and cases brought by private property managers.

In those cases, the study found that landlords retained legal representation 100 percent of the time, while only about 2 percent of tenants had lawyers. This puts tenants at a disadvantage in court, as they’re left navigating complex legal proceedings on their own.

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Having a lawyer greatly increases a person’s chances of staying in their home. The study found that in DHA eviction cases, tenants who had lawyers were able to avoid eviction about 80 percent of the time. In private cases, that number was 94 percent.

The report also found that eviction rates were higher in neighborhoods that had higher concentrations of people of color. Neighborhoods with the highest rates of eviction included Hampden, Gateway-Green Valley Ranch, Montbello, Washington Virginia Vale and Windsor.

The study’s authors said their findings show a need for more emergency rent assistance, better procedures for people facing eviction and a dedicated eviction defense fund for people who can’t afford a lawyer on their own. These changes could help reduce the number of people who wind up on the streets, they said.

“Too often, eviction can begin a slippery slope to poverty and homelessness – particularly for families or individuals who are experiencing common but challenging life circumstances like sudden job loss or illness,” said Cathy Alderman, Vice President of Communications and Public Policy at the Colorado Coalition on the Homeless. “With adequate legal representation, many of these tenants could work with landlords and housing authorities to negotiate a solution that would allow them to continue to reside in their homes while they get their lives and finances back in order.”

To read the full report, head over to cclponline.org.

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