By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City council members heard testimony Monday that many of the thousands of evictions in Philadelphia, each year, could be avoided if the tenants had lawyers.

William Church is a 65-year-old former marine with serious health problems and a landlord, he says, has ignored deplorable conditions in his home.

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“I have swept snow and ice from my bedroom, lived with bugs and had squirrels in the ceiling,” Church testified.

City council members exploring what they call the city’s eviction “crisis” heard that those kinds of code violations often precede an eviction.

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Tenants, as Mr. Church did, stop paying rent, a remedy allowed by law, but then are sued in landlord-tenant court, where 92 percent of tenants have no lawyer, but usually face a landlord who does. Church is lucky. The senior law center is helping him — but Councilwoman Helen Gym says eviction shouldn’t be left to luck.

“Eviction and the substandard housing conditions faced by tens of thousands in our city is a public health crisis,” she said.

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Gym called on her colleagues to craft a public policy solution.