Suffolk University Law School’s Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab today released a free tool that helps tenants exercise their rights under the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s recent eviction moratorium order.
The tool allows tenants anywhere in the country to find out if they qualify for their eviction to be halted, and produces a customized letter that they can download and print or email directly to their landlord. Tenants who qualify and send this letter can halt their eviction until Dec. 31, 2020.
To mitigate community spread of the novel coronavirus, the CDC issued an order yesterday pausing residential evictions for some tenants unable to make rental payments due to hardships caused by the coronavirus.
Suffolk’s web-based tool walks a tenant through the qualifying questions step-by-step, and is mobile friendly. It was written at a sixth-grade reading level and with accessibility in mind, including features for people with limited English and who rely on screen readers. The online form takes about five minutes for a tenant to use and asks about 10 questions. A Spanish-language version of the tool is in the works.
The Lab’s director David A. Colarusso says the Lab was able to produce this tool within a day of the CDC announcement thanks to their existing COVID-19 response — the Document Assembly Line Project — an assembly line for rapidly creating mobile-friendly accessible versions of online legal forms and pro se materials in multiple-languages for key areas of urgent legal need amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The Document Assembly Line Project is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s COVID-19 Task Force and is staffed by volunteers across five continents, including employees and students from local legal aid and educational organizations.
The team has performed legal research and created mobile-friendly versions of court forms and pro se materials – recognizing key areas where the public is most in need of legal services during this pandemic, including emergency housing issues and domestic violence protective orders.
The team continues substantial work on over 40 additional court forms, all of which are built on the open source docassemble platform to allow others in jurisdictions around the world to leverage the team’s efforts to improve online court access beyond Massachusetts.
In March, when the courts closed in Massachusetts due to the pandemic, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court sent an open letter to lawyers in the state asking them to think, “What if?” The Lab answered that call, setting up the document assembly line.
In a few months, a volunteer team of attorneys, designers, software engineers, advocates, and law students produced for free what would normally have taken years and cost over $1 million in service of access to justice during the crisis.
The Lab has worked with the courts to assure that users can complete these forms on nothing more than a smartphone, opening up the possibility of e-filing for cases that never before had such options.
Additionally, the Lab has welcomed as members of the team dozens of law students from Suffolk, Northeastern, BC, and BU law schools, providing pro bono and work study opportunities at a time when many found their summer plans disrupted. Under the supervision of Colarusso and Clinical Fellow Quinten Steenhuis, this experience has turned into a master class on legal technology, allowing students to learn by engaging with a project across its entire life cycle.
To view the tool, visit https://massaccess.suffolklitlab.org/housing#CDC