Strengthening Renters’ Rights in Baltimore
Safe and stable housing has far reaching economic, health, and social benefits to individuals, families, and communities, and is key to reducing racial inequities. Renters routinely have little agency when faced with threats to maintaining stable housing. Now many are confronting increased economic hardship, the shortcomings of eviction mitigation policy, and the extreme threat to health resulting from homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a society, we have an obligation to make sure that people can stay in their homes, especially during a time of pandemic.
Rent Court was originally set up to protect tenants by enforcing health and sanitation standards in housing and assist landlords in collecting unpaid rent. But the reality is that a handful of overworked, overwhelmed judges work swiftly to move cases (as many as 1,000 per day) along, rather than hear the tenants’ concerns.
Many low-income renters cannot access a lawyer, and so most cases are heard in their landlord’s favor. This leads to nearly 7,000 evictions a year, most of them preventable, and makes it easy for landlords to avoid adhering to housing standards. Black women are overwhelmingly impacted by this broken system.
Jews United for Justice is part of the Baltimore Renters’ United coalition; more information provided below. In December 2020, BRU successfully worked to pass a city-wide renters’ right to counsel in eviction cases, ensuring all renters facing eviction will have an attorney. This win makes Baltimore the 7th city in the country to establish this right, and will help achieve equity in rent court.
Baltimore Renters United
Baltimore Renters United (BRU) is a coalition of advocacy and membership groups fighting for the rights of renters in Baltimore City. BRU members include JUFJ, The Public Justice Center, Communities United, Right To Housing Alliance, Baltimore DSA, and the Homeless Persons Representation Project.
In the spring of 2020, BRU launched a Right to Counsel campaign, which will guarantee tenants in Baltimore City who are facing eviction the right to have a lawyer represent them in rent court. Currently, rent court is heavily skewed in favor of landlords: about 96% of landlords are represented, while only 1% of tenants have lawyers. Right to Counsel will shift the balance, to help seek justice for tenants. In December 2020, a renters’ right to counsel bill was passed!
BRU also hosts bmorerentersunited.org, which shines a light on the conditions and challenges renters face in Baltimore City’s Circuit Court and other injustices.
Want to get involved in the campaign? Meet with us!
October 3 | 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Join JUFJers from across Baltimore to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. We will share updates for all the local campaigns and brainstorm on how to move the work forward.