“Hello Landlord” Online Tool Debuts
Provo—BYU Law, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, and SixFifty, a subsidiary of the law firm Wilson Sonsini, today announced the release of Hello Landlord – a free web-based tool that helps tenants communicate with their landlords about issues that can lead to eviction. This nationwide resource is a result of a semester-long collaboration between BYU’s LawX Legal Design Lab and University of Arizona Law’s Innovation for Justice program, which shares a commitment to addressing pressing legal service issues with innovative products and solutions.
In 2016 more than 2 million people in the U.S. were evicted from their homes. Tucson is a top-25 evicting city according to Eviction Lab, with less than 20 percent of tenants appearing in eviction proceedings, 90 percent appearing without counsel and 96 percent of cases resulting in eviction judgments against tenants. Lack of legal representation is also an issue in Utah, with a 15:1 defendant-to-lawyer ratio in the state.
Hello Landlord is available for free at www.hellolandlord.org with English and Spanish language options for tenants to generate a letter about a missed rental payment or a problem with their rental. Developed by the BYU and UA students, and built on SixFifty’s automation platform, it features simple, guided questions such as “what is your landlord’s first name?” and “why can’t you pay rent?” The software then generates a letter that clearly and respectfully explains the tenant’s situation and proposes a solution. Nearly 90 percent of the landlords who have previewed the tool said they would be willing to work with the tenant to resolve the problem if they received a similar letter.
“As we train the next generation of lawyers, we want to instill the notion that going to court is not always the solution,” said Kimball D. Parker, LawX director and president of SixFifty. “When it comes to evictions, the adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ certainly applies. We found that most landlords don’t want to evict tenants and are receptive to working with those who proactively reach out. The collaboration with the University of Arizona and SixFifty has resulted in an online de-escalation tool that has the potential to help anyone who has missed rent or is experiencing an issue with the condition of their rental avoid legal problems.”
At the beginning of the fall 2018 semester, five LawX and ten Innovation for Justice legal design lab students were tasked with utilizing a design- and systems-thinking framework to develop one or more scalable solutions to increase housing stability for tenants in underserved communities by reducing the frequency of eviction. The diverse group of students each brought different skills and experiences to the process, including one student who was served with an eviction notice during the semester. The students observed more than 220 eviction court proceedings and spoke with dozens of stakeholders, including judges, landlords, tenants, social services providers, attorneys, and journalists. They found that by the time a tenant is served with an eviction notice, the eviction process in both Arizona and Utah is too rapid and rigid to afford an opportunity to stabilize the rental housing at stake. In many states, there are few legal defenses available to tenants once an eviction lawsuit has been filed.
The students were interested in developing an upstream solution that could increase the likelihood that tenants and landlords would resolve issues that can lead to evictions. Specifically, students were interested in targeting a communication gap they observed between tenants and landlords, in which tenants felt powerless to reach out to landlords when at risk of missing a payment or experiencing a problem with a rental property, and landlords felt that tenants did not reach out to try and resolve payment or rental issues. The result was the creation of Hello Landlord, which aims to improve communications between tenants and landlords before a rental issue becomes an eviction court filing.
“Eviction is a national crisis, and the ripple effects of an eviction are devastating to families and communities. We went into this challenge knowing that we wanted to design a scalable, bilingual, jurisdiction-agnostic solution that could positively affect widespread change,” said Stacy Butler, director of the UA’s Innovation for Justice program. “For most people, that eviction notice is the last chapter in a much longer story about systems failure. We hope that by spreading the word about this new access to justice tool and making Hello Landlord available to as many people in as many states as possible, we can encourage communities to think preventatively about the justice gap.”
Ms. Butler adds that they appreciate the support they have received from the legal community, including Wilson Sonsini, which has provided assets to subsidize tool development, web hosting and sustainability, and the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid and Defender Association, which welcomed BYU and UA to preview Hello Landlord at the Equal Justice Conference in April. In addition, the Innovation for Justice program received grant funding from the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice to offer tenant education workshops in Pima County, Arizona in partnership with a local pro bono law center. Those workshops will afford the Innovation for Justice program an opportunity to continue its eviction prevention research for two more years, as well as an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of Hello Landlord.
Hello Landlord is the second web-based brainchild to come from BYU’s LawX innovation lab, which created SoloSuit – an award-winning online tool that helps Utahns who cannot afford legal services to respond to debt collection lawsuits. For more information about LawX, follow @LawXLab on Twitter. For more information on BYU Law, visit http://www.law.byu.edu/. For more information about SixFifty, go to www.sixfifty.com or follow @sixfiftyhq on Twitter.
For more information about University of Arizona Law, go to https://law.arizona.edu/ and follow @uarizonalaw on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about Innovation for Justice, visit law.arizona.edu/i4j.
About BYU Law School
Founded in 1971, the J. Reuben Clark Law School (BYU Law) has grown into one of the nation’s leading law schools – recognized for innovative research and teaching in social change, transactional design, entrepreneurship, corpus linguistics, criminal justice and religious freedom. The law school has more than 6,000 alumni serving in communities around the world. In its most recent rankings, SoFi ranked BYU Law as the #1 best-value U.S. law school in their 2017 Return on Education Law School Ranking. For more information, visit http://www.law.byu.edu/.
About University of Arizona LawWith a 100-year history of graduating successful lawyers and leaders, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law is a top-tier law school and the only institution that trains students from undergraduate through doctoral degrees. University of Arizona Law is known for rigorous, individualized teaching, a close-knit community, and innovations that transform legal education, all while embedded in one of the nation’s top research universities. Recent rankings include #9 in Practical Training by National Jurist magazine and #7 Best Law Schools for Avoiding Debt by USA Today College. The University of Arizona is the first and only university to offer a BA in Law. For more information, visit https://law.arizona.edu/.
About SixFifty Headquartered in the Silicon Slopes area of Utah, SixFifty is a subsidiary of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and combines the expertise of the world’s leading technology law firm, made accessible through thoughtful technology. SixFifty streamlines complex areas of the law by providing actionable, efficient and affordable solutions for individuals and businesses. For more information, please visit www.sixfifty.com.