Why N.J. should provide low-income tenants facing eviction free legal help

Sunday, 05 November 2017, 09:53:56 PM. Providing counsel for low-income tenants at risk of displacement will help to assure that basic guarantees of due process and essential fairness are met.
By Paula Franzese Every day, in New Jersey and across the country, countless residential tenants face the prospect of eviction. Last year, our state saw 161,000 evictions. The preponderance of those tenants, many among the ranks of the working poor and the disabled, remain voiceless, without legal counsel or the opportunity to be meaningfully heard. Yet there are catastrophic personal and societal consequences of housing displacement and homelessness. Indeed, only 80 of the 40,000 residential eviction actions brought in Essex County in one year alone had tenants asserting their most basic right to a safe and inhabitable dwelling. That figure is startling, particularly given the far greater statistical likelihood and documented accounts of serious housing code violations in derelict rental units in Newark and its vicinity. The principal defense available to aggrieved tenants, known as "breach of the implied warranty of habitability," is supposed to guarantee residential tenants that the apartments they rent are livable and in good condition. It was created to give aggrieved tenants who are for example without heat or running water or whose premises are fraught with rodent, bug or mold infestation the right to lawfully withhold rent until the landlord makes the necessary repairs. It is meant to be a defense to an eviction action and to compel landlords' compliance with basic standards of safety and decency in the apartments that they lease.  Yet, in most cases that assurance...Read more
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