On a recent Thursday morning, attorney Joseph Loveless arrives at rent court in Baltimore hoping to help someone stay in their home. He was inspired to join Maryland Legal Aid after both the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland passed laws in 2021 guaranteeing the right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction.
“Homelessness is a crisis in this country,” he says. “It’s pretty much trying to stop the bleeding at the source.”
But Loveless doesn’t know whether he’ll get a chance to do that this day.
Two years after the laws passed, there’s still no system to match attorneys with tenants. So Loveless and his colleagues arrive half an hour before the court opens and offer themselves up. “We will be making an announcement basically right in front of the door saying, you know, ‘Everybody who’s waiting to get in, you might want to speak to us first,'” Loveless says.
For most renters, there has been a legal disadvantage
Across the U.S., judges have final say over evictions, and there has long been a major power imbalance in courts: Some 80% of landlords have lawyers, but just 3% of tenants do. Those facing eviction are also disproportionately