Legal assistance available for families dealing with eviction
By The Star Staff
The organization Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico (ALPR) announced a series of initiatives Tuesday to support the increasing number of families who are evicted from their rented properties as rent payments continue to go up.
The initiatives include technology, the creation of a free legal representation panel, and changes in public policy. The group said that while millions of dollars are available to help tenants, very little funding has been disbursed.
“Despite the fact that almost a third of the homes in Puerto Rico are rented to others, the rights of families who rent are ignored. Increases in rent payments, ignorance of the rights of tenants as well as violations of the right to privacy or forced evictions, are recurring issues in our offices,” said Ariadna Godreau Aubert, founder and executive director of ALPR, which has dealt with more than 455 requests for legal support from tenants between 2021 and the present.
The organization presented the Digital Center for Self-Defense (CDA by its Spanish initials) to provide useful documents in support of the rights of those who cannot afford legal representation. In essence, it is a digital platform, accessible by cell phone or computer, that allows families to identify the type of legal problem they are facing, educate themselves about it and learn to defend themselves (The tool is accessible at www.ayudalegalpuertorico.org/cda).
David Rodríguez, coordinator of access to justice and technology at ALPR, said that through the CDA people “will be able, for example, to draft a response to an eviction lawsuit, write complaints to different agencies, or write a rental contract, among other forms that are very useful.”
ALPR also announced the creation of the Panel in Defense of Tenants, which is aimed at people at risk of eviction for non-payment. The panel, made up of professionals licensed in law, offers legal support at no cost to those who qualify. Priority will be given to older adults, heads of families, immigrants, and survivors of domestic violence, among other groups. Those people who are in a process of eviction from their home due to non-payment can request legal assistance from the panel by calling 787-957-3106. The lawyers who are members of the panel will offer their time through a reduced fixed fee or the validation of pro bono hours. If interested, lawyers should write to firstname.lastname@example.org, Rodríguez said.
“We estimate that 90% of the people sued for eviction do not have legal representation,” Godreau Aubert said. “If we change that, if we share education and advocacy tools – including but not limited to representation – we can give them a real and fair chance to defend their right to housing.”
Pamela Bernard Boigues, a lawyer with the group, expanded on the need for rental assistance to reach those who need support.
“We know that almost half of the tenants spend more than 35% of their income on paying their rent, but the loss of income due to the pandemic and other complications has limited the assistance to these people,” she said. “Puerto Rico has $325 million available to assist renters in financial need due to the pandemic. Barely 30% has been disbursed and we could be at risk of losing that money. We must make changes.”
The organization called on the Public Housing Administration to expand the educational campaign on the program that covers up to 15 months of rent and utilities, as well as an expansion of support that prioritizes historically vulnerable groups such as older adults, immigrants and people with disabilities and functional diversity.