Harvard Law School Study of Eviction Diversion Begins in Miami
Renters Seeking Repairs Can Get Legal Advice and Information to Avoid Eviction
Miami, FL – Legal Services of Greater Miami is launching a first-in-the-nation study of an eviction diversion program, in partnership with Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab. The Tenants’ Equal Justice Clinic, which helps renters enforce habitability rights without facing a retaliatory eviction by their landlord, has begun accepting participants for a long-term study of how effective the program is at keeping people out of court—and in their homes.
Jeffrey Hearne, the Director of Litigation at Legal Services, said, “When tenants come to Legal Services after their landlords file an eviction in court, it is sometimes too late to help. We created the Tenants’ Equal Justice Clinic to provide early legal intervention before the parties end up in court.”
In 2019 there were an estimated 17,000 evictions filed in Miami-Dade County – or nearly 50 evictions per day. But these official figures fail to capture the scope of the “forced move” crisis in Miami. Landlords can force out tenants through a variety of means, including by failing to repair or maintain properties to such an extent that the units are no longer habitable and the tenant has no choice but to move out. To a low-income tenant forced to bear the expense of moving, the difference doesn’t matter. Tenants regularly visit Legal Services because they want their landlord to make repairs so they can live in safe, decent and stable housing.
Mr. Daniel Obion came to the clinic with serious conditions in his unit such as a lack of electricity to certain areas of his home and a sewage leak. An attorney met with him at the clinic and drafted a rent withholding letter that Mr. Obion sent to the landlord. This letter protected him when the landlord failed to make the repairs and sought to evict him. Ultimately, he was able to settle favorably with the landlord and relocate on his own terms to better housing.
Legal Services developed the Tenants’ Equal Justice Clinic to offer legal advice to individuals whose landlords are not meeting their obligation to provide habitable housing, but who are not yet facing an eviction. The clinic offers free legal advice to people seeking help getting their landlord to make repairs. Using a randomized evaluation, the gold-standard in empirical research, the Harvard-led team will be able to make a conclusive determination about how well the program helps study participants avoid eviction. Each participant will receive either the brochure or an appointment at the clinic. The brochure, which is a product designed by Legal Services, will be tested in Spanish, English, and Haitian Kreyol. Researchers will work with participants over a period of years to learn about their housing security over time.
Jim Greiner, the Honorable S. William Green Professor of Public Law at Harvard Law School and Faculty Director of the A2J Lab, said, “This study is the first randomized evaluation we know of that will show whether a project can prevent a dispute over repairs from becoming an eviction. If this program helps people maintain secure housing, it could offer a path forward for other similar legal services providers across the country. The best court outcome in many of these cases is avoiding having to go to court at all.”
Individuals interested in learning more about the Tenants’ Equal Justice Clinic can call Legal Services of Greater Miami’s intake hotline at (305) 576-0080 or visit https://www.legalservicesmiami.org/contact-hours.