New Housing Court models have emerged out of Charleston, South Carolina, where stakeholders have created a program hosted in the court to get more access to legal representation to eligible tenants, to help them avoid evictions.
A coalition of courts, legal aid groups, and community groups created a new Housing Court services model for people facing eviction in the Charleston, South Carolina region. It is now expanding to other counties in South Carolina, with the state Supreme Court Approval.
The first new Housing Court pilot started in 2019, it has since expanded to 5 areas in Charleston, each with a different magistrate presiding over their local Housing Court.
What is the Charleston Housing Court model?
The new Housing Court entails the following components:
Scheduling: Eviction matters are all held on one day of the week
Outreach and Awareness: A bright green sheet goes out to defendants to let them know that they can either call 211 to connect with a lawyer, or come to court and connect there. (Not many people are calling 211, more it is at court)
Intake at court building: At court, law students do intake of tenants who request help. Tenants are screened for income eligibility.
Attorney assistance: Then an attorney comes up with a possible solution to prevent an eviction. This could be a move-out date that is more amenable to the tenant, a payment plan (more viable when ERAP funding was present, now depending on a HUD grant), or a possible procedural defect or defense to go for a dismissal. The attorney goes with the tenant to settlement discussions or the hearing.
Hearings flexibility: Cases still move at about 15 minutes per case on the docket, with judges allowing time for clients to meet with lawyers & for cases to be switched around if there’s mediation going around.
Paperwork beforehand: The court administrators send the pleadings to the lawyers ahead of time, so they can plan beforehand.
Navigator follow-up: Ideally, a court navigator could help the tenant follow through on the action plan, like around the move-out date or the payment plan.
Program coordinator: There’s a program coordinator who makes sure that there are attorneys present, paperwork prepared, etc.
The program can be evaluated by a few key outcomes to determine impact:
Percentage of clients who used the Housing Court services who avoided eviction, like through a dismissal, payment plan settlement, or agreed move-out settlement
Client satisfaction, about their own sense of empowerment, understanding, and improvement of housing outcomes
Court leader satisfaction, including around docket efficiency, quality of understanding, and level of litigant participation
Rates of eviction filing and prevention of frivolous lawsuits
Rates of landlords complying with the law about notice periods, eviction rules, and fees/penalties being charged
Social worker navigators are a new way to connect tenants and landlords with important assistance to resolve their problems when they visit court. They can also help court leaders make smarter referrals to get to better outcomes.