RENTERS’ RIGHTS: What you can do when facing eviction in CT
(WFSB) - All week long, the I-Team is digging into issues impacting renters.
Evictions in Connecticut are higher than pre-pandemic levels and many tenants don’t know where to turn.
Tonight, the I-Team explains what your rights are when it comes to an eviction.
Through an interpreter, Xiomara Fugon is telling us about the eviction she faced last summer.
“It was very hard. I’ve been living here for more than 17 years now and that was the first time I’ve been in something like that,” says Xiomara Fugon.
Xiomara says her Bridgeport landlord asked her to move out, after saying she didn’t pay her rent in June.
Xiomara says she was confused because her bank records show she paid the rent, and her lease wasn’t up for a few months.
“It was difficult for me because I needed a place to live. I am a single mother and I don’t get paid a lot,” says Xiomara.
She finally moved out after an agreement was made in court.
Xiomara and her children were able to find a new place, but the search wasn’t easy.
“Everything is expensive right now,” says Xiomara.
EVICTION FILINGS UP:
“It’s a terrifying time,” says Giovanna Shay, who fights for renters’ rights with Greater Hartford Legal Aid.
Shay says eviction filings have returned to pre-pandemic levels, in large part because of the significant increases in rent.
”It’s so frightening. For everybody. For the elderly, for parents, for young people,” says Shay.
22,746 evictions were filed in the State of Connecticut in 2022.
Around 3800 more evictions than in pre-pandemic 2019.
”The process moves very fast. And it can happen when it’s not your fault,” says Shay.
Landlords can file evictions against you if you don’t pay your rent, violate your lease, or if your lease is up.
If your landlord wants to evict you, you will get a notice to quit first, a legal document that asks you to leave by a certain date.
“You’re going to have to make a decision. About whether you’re going to be able to leave by that date, or whether you’re going to stay and risk there could be an eviction filed against you,” says Shay. “You of course can reach out to your landlord, see if you can resolve the situation, that might be the best case scenario.
”If you don’t come to an agreement, your landlord can file an eviction in court.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS AS A TENANT?
But as a tenant, you have rights.
You have the right to defend yourself, so always try to talk to an attorney.
Anyone can call Statewide Legal Services at 800-453-3320 for representation or free advice.
Connecticut also has a Right to Counsel law, which gives low income tenants in 14 zip codes across CT access to free legal counsel in eviction cases. (SEE QUALIFYING ZIP CODES BELOW).
If you are disabled or a senior (62 and over), you cannot be evicted except in limited cases.
A landlord cannot remove your belongings from your apartment or change the locks, even if you owe back rent, unless they win the eviction case in court.
“I think it’s terrifying, for many of our clients,” says Shay.
Evictions take an average of 54 days from start to finish in Connecticut.
Tenant advocates say that’s too fast, but Bob DeCosmo who represents landlords through the CT Property Owners’ Alliance, says if the process were shorter, landlords would be more likely to accept tenants they may not have looked at before, because landlords would save time and money.
”As landlords have always said, if it’s easier to evict tenants, I will take more of a risk when I look at my rental applications, and because the process is so long in CT, good tenants with marginal credit are being denied. There is less likelihood a landlord is willing to take a risk because of the length of the process,” says DeCosmo.
He also questions the Right to Counsel Program, saying “Why can’t landlords who have financial hardship get free legal help too?”
Xiomara represented herself, because she said she was unable to find a lawyer.
”If I would have been guided and had somebody to help me, I don’t think that would have happened,” says Xiomara.
LEGAL AND FINANCIAL HELP:
For more information on help from Greater Hartford Legal Aid, head here.
To learn about Eviction Help in CT, head here and here: https://ctlawhelp.org/en/evictions-process-laws-connecticut
Experts suggested that renters can turn to the Community Renewal Team and the Salvation Army for financial help.
The Community Renewal Team’s website can be found here.
In January, the state launched a new fund to assist renters who may face eviction due to owing past due rent.
The Eviction Prevention Fund will provide households with up to $5,000 to pay off past due rent with their current landlord.
To apply, tenants must call the UniteCT Call Center at 1-844-864-8328 and be screened for eligibility. Eligible applicants will receive direct assistance from a local UniteCT Resource Center, where they will complete the application. If a tenant requires but does not have legal representation, access to mediators at Quinnipiac University’s Center on Dispute Resolution will be provided.
RIGHT TO COUNSEL PROGRAM:
Connecticut has a Right to Counsel law, which gives low income tenants in 14 zip codes across CT access to free legal counsel in eviction cases.
Zip codes where qualifying residents can access this program as of today are: Bridgeport, 06610; Danielson, 06239; Hartford, 06105, 06106, 06112, 06114, 06120; New Haven, 06511, 06513, 06519; Putnam, 06260; Waterbury, 06710; West Haven, 06516; Willimantic, 06226.
Tenants can see if they are eligible, whether services are being provided in their area, or be referred to other free resources through evictionhelpct.org or by using the toll-free hotline, 1-800-559-1565.
Who is Income Eligible?
- Tenants with a household income at or below 80% of the state median income (or $79,900 for a family of four) will be eligible for representation by Right to Counsel attorneys.
- If the number of eligible tenants or utilization rates exceeds estimates, those at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level ($53,000 for a family of four) will be prioritized for representation.
How do tenants get notice of the program?
- The law requires landlords, housing subsidy providers and the courts to provide notice of the program to tenants at risk of eviction or loss of a housing subsidy.
- The notice includes the hotline number, 1-800-559-1565, and the program website, evictionhelpct.org so that tenants may find out if they are eligible for services, whether services are being provided in their area, or be referred to other free resources if not.
- The CBF and legal service organizations are also collaborating on community-level outreach
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