A new report from The University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies shares data about an in-court legal help program operated by Legal Services Vermont (LSV). The report discusses the positive impact of having legal aid and volunteer lawyers available for free at Vermont courts during eviction hearings.
“We helped so many people who would not normally have access to a lawyer at a pivotal time in their cases and their lives,” said project director Margaret Frye of Legal Services Vermont. “I look forward to that work continuing in the future.”
The report estimates about 70% of all landlords have a lawyer to represent them at in eviction case in Vermont. Prior to this program in Rutland County, Vermont, only 13% of tenants had legal representation. In 2019 during this program, 69% of tenants were represented in Rutland County.
When lawyers represented the tenants, more cases were settled and the cases lasted for a shorter period of time. This led to less stress and better outcomes for the tenants who often were not aware of their rights.
The program helped low-income clients avoid eviction from their homes.
This program was created when Legal Services Vermont received Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants from the Legal Services Corporation. Because affordable housing is so scarce in Vermont, preventing evictions has been a priority for LSV for years. The grants provided an important opportunity for Vermonters who usually represent themselves in court against opponents who are more likely to be represented by attorneys.
Through this program, LSV helped low-income clients avoid evictions by increasing the number of active pro bono attorneys available to help them. Working with the Civil Division court, LSV provided volunteer attorneys for tenants facing eviction in Addison, Chittenden, Rutland and Windham Counties. LSV's sister organization, Vermont Legal Aid, was also able to offer same-day legal assistance in rent escrow hearings in other counties under less structured settings.
“I am proud of the work the volunteer lawyers and staff at Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid put into making these clinics successful,” Frye said.