The U.S. Constitution provides criminal defendants the right to a court-appointed attorney but gives no similar protection to civil litigants. Although federal law does not supply any categorical rights to counsel for civil litigants, all 50 states have instituted the right in at least one category of civil law that substantially impacts individuals’ rights. Since 2017, several U.S. cities have enacted such a right for tenants facing eviction. In so doing, these cities responded to American families’ increasing rent burden, the recent publication of nationwide eviction data, the sociological research concerning the impact of eviction, and the lack of procedural and substantive fairness for tenants in court. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the urgency for this right.

This Comment will recommend that the Pennsylvania legislature enact the nation’s first statewide civil right to counsel for tenants in eviction proceedings, given the support in case law and anticipated benefits to individuals and communities. This Comment explores the unique challenges and opportunities Pennsylvania faces in implementing tenants’ right to counsel, based on its demographics, its existing legal services infrastructure, and its largely rural geography. Additionally, this Comment overviews the implementation and results from similar programs in other jurisdictions. This Comment concludes by proposing concrete steps and raising abstract considerations for making aspirational justice a reality for tenants facing eviction in Pennsylvania.



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