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The United States lags behind many other developed countries when it comes to the right to counsel, as it is only broadly applied to criminal cases and not civil cases. This means that the right to counsel in civil cases depends on the state and the type of case. Currently, no state guarantees a right to counsel in housing-related cases.


In Detroit, the 36th District Court has over 30,000 residents appear each year to address landlord-tenant disputes. The majority of these residents are low-income and almost none of them have legal representation. Orders are most often entered in favor of landlords, burdening tenants with costs of judgments and the need to find new housing.


The lack of legal counsel in a housing-related case can result in a residents losing their homes vs. retaining their home. While the immediate consequence of displacement seems obvious, it is the longer-term consequences that have more substantial impact on families, communities, and cities, including:

  • Employment: Maintaining steady employment is less likely without a steady living situation

  • Education: Eviction often results in a disruption in education or a change of schools

  • Health: Early research shows an association between housing instability and mental and physical health


There is a nation-wide movement to expand the right to counsel in civil cases and states are testing various implementation strategies. In 2019, there have been a number of bills introduced in various states that would address and expand the right to counsel in civil cases.


  • In 2015, UCHC started our Housing Defense Legal Clinic in the 36th District Court which runs three days per week and includes an eviction diversion program twice per month. The Clinic work has expanded to include intervention in development projects that jeopardize the housing of low income residents. With support from the City of Detroit, UCHC helps impacted tenants with relocation. Through our Legal Clinic work, we are able to represent approximately 1,000 clients per year who would otherwise be without Counsel.

  • In 2019, UCHC was a key sponsor in the Detroit Eviction Right to Counsel Summit. The event convened 25 local and national leaders involved in the Right to Counsel movement to address the eviction crisis. The event featured multiple panel sessions that included low-income tenants facing evictions, city leaders, Detroit area businesses, and experts from around the country. These panelists shared their experiences regarding the costs, benefits, and impacts of various efforts to reduce evictions and improve community and family stability.

  • Our goal is to be a leader in expanding Michigan’s right to counsel in eviction cases so that more low income Detroiters have proper representation and a better opportunity to avoid eviction and homelessness.


benefiting from legal representation in 2017


In partnership with Michigan Legal Services, United Community Housing Coalition provides free legal representation for low-income tenants in landlord-tenant court cases and represents more than 1,000 households each year.


  • For more information about our Housing Defense Legal Clinic, click here 

  • "For some types of civil cases, the right to a free lawyer for people who can't afford one helps ensure the court reaches the correct result, levels the playing field, saves more money than it costs, and serves as a best practice in our communities.  Every state provides a right to counsel for some types of civil cases, but it's a patchwork at best." - National Coalition for a Civil Right to Council

  • For additional information about the nationwide Right to Counsel Movement, visit Stout’s resource page here

  • For details about the Detroit Eviction Right to Counsel Summit click here


Detroit Free Press / September 30, 2019

Detroit City Council aims to address big issues facing Detroiters with 'People's Bills'

"Sheffield has been working with the United Community Housing Coalition, Michigan Legal Services and other organizations to craft a plan that would service 20% of individuals facing evictions each year for the next five years at a cost of $4 million dollars."

Michigan Radio / August 2, 2019

Members of Congress hear about impacts of "lost decade" of housing in Detroit

“The fact that you can use funds to tear down homes to eliminate blight, but you can’t use the same damn funds to help people stay in their home to prevent blight, is ridiculous,” Phillips said.

Detour Detroit / March 25, 2019

Detroit has a massive eviction crisis.  Here's how the city could keep renters from losing their homes.

"Imagine if half the time a person was charged with a crime they went straight to prison without consulting a lawyer or going to court. Not because they were guilty ' but because the system was so stacked against them it didn't seem worth fighting the case, or they didn't even know they could."

Deadline Detroit / March 13, 2019

Detroit Would Save Money By Guaranteeing Evicted Renters A Lawyer, Experts Say

"The idea was presented Tuesday at a "Detroit Eviction Right To Counsel Summit" that included city leaders. Housing advocates estimate that just five percent of renters whose cases are heard in court are represented. There are more than 30,000 eviction cases in the city each year."

The Detroit News / March 12, 2019

Group wants renters to have lawyers in eviction cases

"The summit's sponsors included more than 20 organizations, including the State Bar of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, several Michigan law schools and Ford Motor Co., organizers said. "This is huge," said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition, which represents tenants in courts. "When people aren't represented, they are evicted. We can't possibly keep up."

Bridge Magazine, Detroit Journalism Cooperative / March 12, 2019

One in five Detroit rentals face eviction. Time to call in the lawyers?

"In 36th District Court, which serves Detroit, there are so many evictions that four separate courtrooms are dedicated to them. Judges can process hundreds of evictions before lunch."

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