Proposal calls for every renter facing eviction to have the right to a lawyer

Ballot measure for June, 2018 could be litmus test for local politicians

A coalition of renters and advocates, led by Dean Preston, who ran for supervisor last year, filed the paperwork today for a ballot measure that would guarantee every tenant facing eviction in San Francisco the right to a lawyer.

“This will go a long way toward improving the eviction problem,” Preston said. “Tenants who go to court without a lawyer almost always lose.”

Advocates file for a Right To Counsel measure at City Hall

In fact, he said, nationwide 90 percent of tenants facing eviction don’t have legal representation, while 90 percent of landlords do.

“Housing is a fundamental human right,” Preston said. And that means people who risk losing it have a fundamental right to counsel – just as people who risk losing their freedom in a criminal trial have a guaranteed right to legal representation.

The No Eviction Without Representation measure needs 9,400 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The city has allocated money to help nonprofits fund legal defense for people facing eviction, but it’s not enough to cover every tenant. And there’s no rule in place saying that nobody facing eviction, whatever their income level, has an absolute right to counsel.

Early polling suggests that the idea has a lot of support. A poll released by the SF Right to Counsel Committee shows that 60 percent of likely voters support the idea, with only 27 percent opposed. That’s a 2-1 margin, great news for any nascent campaign.

The poll also snows that only 30 percent of voters approve of Mayor Ed Lee’s job performance, and 50 percent disapprove.

The measure could become a litmus test for candidates running for supervisor in the spring and the fall: In San Francisco, politicians always want to sound pro-tenant, but when it comes to money – funding equity proposals – they often fold.

For more information, check out the group’s website, and to volunteer to collect signatures, email The group plans a Dec. 2 kickoff, and will need to get signatures by Feb. 5, 2018 to make the June ballot.