Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO) is a non-profit regional law firm that provide high quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity.
Free Right to Counsel Housing & Eviction Prevention Legal Aid Services Available to Those Who Qualify
We recently welcomed three new employees to LAWO focusing on Right to Counsel in housing issues, including eviction defense and additional legal efforts to prevent homelessness and improve housing stability in Toledo. Right to Counsel is an increasingly common trend across the country with government leaders supporting the right to an attorney for tenants in eviction proceedings. LAWO added two new staff attorneys and a paralegal to assist with eviction cases with funding from the recently passed Toledo City Council Right to Counsel ordinance, the 14th of its kind in the nation.
LAWO Managing Attorney Veronica Martinez explained that the legislation gives tenants a fighting chance in court: “About 75% of the time landlords have attorneys; tenants have attorneys only about 2% of the time. This ordinance levels out the playing field,” she said.
Martinez is part of a community-wide Tenant Protection Group, which formed shortly after the first Covid-19 stay-at-home order was mandated in Ohio. It consists of government and nonprofit officials concerned with local housing and renter’s rights issues and has representation from organizations such as LAWO, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc., the Ability Center, Lucas Metropolitan Housing, the Toledo Fair Housing Center, Toledo Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board, United Way of Greater Toledo, and the Zepf Center.
Toledo residents living at 200% or below of the poverty line and facing an eviction are eligible to apply for legal assistance through community partnerships, including referrals through our partner firm, ABLE. ABLE attorneys helped write the first Toledo Right to Counsel draft ordinance after spending months researching and working with clients facing eviction. They quickly realized the inequities in the current system for people living in poverty, and how to make it more balanced.
ABLE’s Director of Advocacy Heather Hall described who is most at-risk of eviction: “Many tenants face eviction due to unforeseen circumstances, and tenants living on low incomes rarely have the resources to afford an attorney. Communities of color and low-income women are impacted the most by eviction, particularly Black women, making the need for right to counsel in eviction proceedings a racial justice issue. This is a step forward in working to address systemic wealth inequality that has historically put people of color and women at higher risk for eviction. Tenants represented by an attorney have a much greater chance of preserving their housing,” she said.
Anyone in need of legal help can contact the Legal Aid Line at 888-534-1432 or apply online at www.legalaidline.org.