In A High-Rent World, Affordable And Safe Housing Is Hard To Come By

By:  Pam Fessler

LaToya Fowlkes is standing outside rent court in Baltimore. A judge has just ruled that Fowlkes has to pay her landlord $4,900 in rent and fees despite her complaints that the house has leaky water pipes, chipped paint, rodents and a huge hole in the living room wall.

But Fowlkes didn't notify her landlord of the problems by certified mail — something the judge said she should have done to avoid eviction.

"It's hard for tenants, because tenants don't know the law. And then you have these landlords that just go and buy agents, and agents just sit there and study it," she says. "So they just know a lot of stuff, they know how to get around, they know how to work the judge over and that's not fair."

Fowlkes is complaining about a system that is pretty common around the country. Most tenants who fail to pay rent and are taken to court have no legal representation while most landlords do. Studies have shown that tenants with lawyers are far more likely to avoid eviction.

No one knows for sure how many people are evicted in the U.S. each year. There are estimates that it's close to 1 million, many of whom are low-income renters living from paycheck to paycheck at a time when affordable housing is becoming increasingly scarce.

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