Advocacy Committee: Volunteer with Tenants Who Face Eviction

July 13, 2020

One of the initiatives of the Advocacy Committee to help with the affordable housing crises is to find lawyers who are willing to consider volunteering to serve as counsel for tenants who are facing eviction. Member Tommy Holderness is leading an effort at Legal Aid of North Carolina to provide counsel to those facing eviction who cannot afford to hire counsel.

An important dimension of the affordable housing crises in Charlotte is the number of tenants who are unrepresented in eviction proceedings brought by landlords. In 2019, more than  32,000 evictions proceedings were brought against tenants. In only a fraction of these cases were the tenants represented, generally because they cannot afford counsel. As a result, most tenants do not have an opportunity to have counsel assess and assert potential defenses and claims they might have under North Carolina law that that would delay or prevent their eviction. This story in the Charlotte Observer describes what tenants face. This Charlotte Observer article describes what tenants face.

Tommy Holderness is a Legal Aid of North Carolina attorney who represents tenants and coordinates Legal Aid of North Carolina’s program to provide volunteer lawyers in the community to eligible tenants. Tommy would like to recruit lawyers willing to represent tenants facing eviction.

The eviction process is in flux now due to the pandemic. When the courts resume eviction hearings, there will likely be a large number of pending cases. The court is hoping to resolve many of these using a voluntary mediation procedure. Tommy expects that many hearings and mediations will be done remotely, but details have not been decided at this point.

Tommy is adamant that landlord-tenant law is not that complicated and that every lawyer would be a huge benefit to tenants facing eviction. Please consider volunteering to serve or at least to take time to learn more about the commitment required and the training offered. If nothing else, you will benefit from learning more about a significant process within our community.

Later in June, Tommy will host a Zoom call which will have two parts. In part 1, Tommy will give an overview of the program and what is expected of volunteer counsel. He will answer questions about the program and your participation should you agree to volunteer. In part 2, Tommy will provide training in the substantive law, the eviction court’s procedures and the processes of Legal Aid of North Carolina.

Please consider volunteering as a pro bono lawyer or at least join the call to see if this opportunity is right for you. To register for the Zoom meeting, email Hal Clarke.

Here are some questions and answers which may be helpful as you consider volunteering:

Q. What would be the time investment to be trained to serve as a volunteer lawyer?

A. The initial call plus any additional time that you would like to invest in learning. Tommy has written materials that he’d be happy to provide for additional study (though that is not necessary).  The vast majority of cases are straightforward non-payment cases.

Q. What is the time commitment that I should expect in representing an eviction client?

A. It depends on how the case is resolved. At a minimum, you should expect at least an hour to interview the client. If the case is resolved in mediation or small claims court, it may require no more than an additional hour or two. If the case is tried and then appealed to District Court, it could require ten hours or more. But your initial commitment would be no more than handling the matter through small claims court, so continuing the representation in District Court would be optional.

Q. Would I be working under the supervision of Legal Aid of North Carolina?

A. Yes, Tommy is contact person for all volunteer lawyers. He is willing to answer questions and provided suggestions and advice.

Q. Is malpractice coverage provided?

A. Yes, through Legal Aid.

Q. Are there a minimum number of cases that a volunteer should plan to handle?

No, volunteers typically handle only one case at a time.  Tommy hopes people would want to keep taking new cases as old cases finish, but there is no expectation or requirement that they will do so.