Rallying for Justice in Housing Court

Levine, Gibson, Mendez and The Coalition for Justice in Housing Court Rally for Bills that Would Provide Legal Counsel to Tenants Facing Eviction

Thirty-Two Council Members Have Already Signed on to Intro-214-2014 and Sixty Organizations Have Joined the Coalition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, June 11th

CONTACT: Jordan Levine, 917-392-8965

NEW YORK – Nearly a quarter of a million New Yorkers were served with eviction papers last year and 90% of those who ended up in court had to fight without the benefit of having an attorney. Many are unfairly evicted because tenants did not know their rights or how to protect them in Court.

Research shows that in almost all cases an attorney could improve the outcome and help keep the tenant in their home. Most tenants can’t afford to hire an attorney and the available free legal services for those who need it do not come close to matching the need.  

The imbalance in housing court carries a heavy toll for tenants: in 2013 there were nearly 30,000 evictions in New York City.  This figure is steadily rising, up more than 20 percent in the past decade.  Two-thirds of evictees have annual incomes of $25,000 or less.  Two-thirds live with children under 18 years of age.

Among homeless families, about one in three enter the shelter system after an eviction. The annual cost for sheltering a homeless family averages about $36,000 per year. The price tag of providing legal counsel to low-income tenants is just $1600-$3200 per case.

Intro 214-2014, carried by Council Members Levine and Gibson, would provide legal counsel for low-income tenants who are subject to eviction, ejectment or foreclosure proceedings and make less than 125% of the federal poverty line. The bill is co-sponsored by a majority of Council Members and is supported by a large coalition of organizations.

Two other bills carried by Council Member Mendez would also provide legal services to tenants subject to eviction, ejectment or foreclosure. Intro 221-2014 would provide legal counsel for parents and guardians with minor children and Intro 96-2014 would provide legal counsel for senior citizens.

The Coalition for Justice in Housing Court is made up of sixty member organizations. To learn more, visit its website: housingcourt.weebly.com.

Council Member Mark Levine said: “The lopsided nature of housing court in New York City violates any reasonable definition of justice. In the vast majority of tenant-landlord disputes only one side—the landlord—has the benefit of legal counsel.  The resulting epidemic of evictions takes a tremendous human toll on families in our city and swells the population of our homeless shelters. It also leads to the loss of thousands of rent-regulated apartments each year, counteracting the expansion of affordable housing the city is working so hard to achieve.  We can address this crisis by taking the simple and relatively inexpensive step of providing attorneys to tenants in housing court.  We must do so now.”

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the daily reality facing many economically struggling New York families as they find themselves falling through the cracks without any legal representation to protect their basic rights during an eviction proceeding,” Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson said. “This legislation would bring true equity to the process we use in Housing Court by ending our current two-tier system of civil justice that has neglected the needs of so many New Yorkers when they are facing the prospect of losing their homes.”    

Council Member Mendez stated: “In NYC, the most precious commodity one can have is a home and if someone is at risk of losing that home then that person should be given an attorney to ensure that s/he doesn’t lose their home just because they don’t know the law.”

"Putting the power back into the hands of working New Yorkers is important and I thank Mark Levine for doing just that with this bill," said Public Advocate Letitia James. "Too often, tenants are forced out of their buildings by slumlords looking to turn a quick buck, but through providing tenants legal support, we believe the eviction rate will drop tremendously. This means preserving affordable housing and keeping more New Yorkers in their homes."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said: “I applaud my colleagues in the City Council for tackling the challenge so many low-income tenants face in our city regarding legal representation in eviction proceedings. Everyone deserves a fair day in court, regardless of what they can or cannot afford to pay an attorney. Our goal must be to keep families out of the shelter system and to preserve our affordable housing stock.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said: “Preserving affordable housing is as important as building new affordable housing – and a key way to preserve affordable units is to provide legal representation to tenants in housing court. Tenants are too often evicted simply because they did not know their rights. Without legal support, they sign stipulations that could have been negotiated differently or don’t answer summons that could be resolved in a positive way. This is why Intro 214 is needed.”

“This legislation is essential for the city’s many low-income tenants who can’t afford proper legal representation when they most need it,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “In particular, the appointment of a civil justice coordinator to HPD will play an important role in helping those low-income tenants fight eviction and stay in their homes, and I am proud to support it.”

"New York City families, irrespective of their income, deserve equal protection under the law. No one should not be subjected to eviction and homelessness, because they could not afford legal representation. We must preserve our communities by ensuring that all families can continue to remain in their homes," said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

“I am proud to be a sponsor of Intro 214-2014,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “Every New Yorker deserves to know what their housing rights are and how to protect them in court. This legislation would give low-income tenants access to legal representation that they would not otherwise have and protect them from being unnecessarily evicted. I look forward to working with my City Council colleagues as we continue to make housing needs a top priority.”

Council Member Steve Levin said: “For tenants facing eviction, it is crucial that they have ample representation to avoid homelessness. One in three homeless families enter the shelter system after an eviction and it is important that tenants are provided legal counsel to avoid this situation. I am proud to support this legislation and thank Council Members Levine and Gibson for their leadership.”

 “New York’s history of evictions highlights our tale of two cities,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “When we know that nearly every family in housing court cannot afford an attorney, and most of the affordable housing in our city is lost due to vacancies, one thing becomes very clear. There is a system in place that benefits those who stand to profit by evicting families in need. Today, we make it clear that no one deserves to be pushed into homelessness. I am proud to stand with my fellow Council Members and the Coalition to Bring Justice to Housing Court, as we fight for our friends and neighbors who deserve better.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal said: "People who struggle to pay their bills certainly cannot afford a lawyer. Let's give some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers a fighting chance at staying in their homes and out of our homeless shelters."

“This legislation provides vulnerable tenants facing evictions in housing court with the information and expertise that for too long has tipped the scale of justice in favor of unscrupulous landlords,” said Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres. “By providing free legal support to low-income families facing eviction, we can keep them out of the shelter system and in their homes.”

"Every New Yorker should have the ability to seek legal counsel if faced with eviction, especially in cases when landlords use illegal means to force a tenant out. This is extremely critical now, when rising rents and housing demand is resulting in high numbers of renters facing unfair eviction tactics. It benefits the city in the long run to prevent unfair and illegal evictions from occurring, so I am proud to stand with Council Member Levine and my colleagues in support of this effort," said Council Member Mark Treyger.

“I applaud Council Member Levine for developing with this long-overdue legislation. No tenant should have to enter a housing court without being fully aware of their rights and responsibilities. By mandating that when tenants enter housing court, that they be appointed counsel, the chance that they will not be able to adequately represent their interests is dramatically diminished. This is particularly important in battling those select bad-actor landlords who will do virtually anything to evict tenants and withdraw units from the protections that rent regulation provides. As chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this and other Right-to-Counsel bills forward,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.

"As holistic public defenders we see, every day, the difference zealous representation makes, especially for families facing eviction and homelessness," said Runa Rajagopal of The Bronx Defenders.  "Landlord attorneys often take advantage of the incredible power imbalance, by bullying unrepresented, vulnerable tenants who are both unaware of their rights and unfamiliar with the perplexing court process."

 “Thirty thousand evictions a year in New York City happen because there is an overwhelming imbalance of power which leads to decisions being rendered against tenants even when they have substantive law on their side.  It is the absence of legal representation in Housing Court that leads to this travesty. Intro-214-2014 addresses this lack of representation for tenants, and will go far in tipping the scales of justice back into a semblance of balance.  The City will then be able to speak about equal access before the law in a real sense,” said Fitzroy Christian, CASA Leader

Bobbie Sackman, Director of Public Policy, Council of Senior Centers and Services, "On behalf of thousands of low income older tenants, frequently targeted for harassment and eviction by landlords, CSCS supports the enactment of Right to Counsel legislation. We applaud the efforts of City Council to establish this critical wall of protection for low income tenants. Stable, affordable housing is a cornerstone to being able to age with dignity in one's home and community."

Louise Seeley, Executive Director of Housing Court Answers said: “Families forcibly evicted by a marshal from their homes face long term devastating harm. We see the damage first hand working in the city’s Housing Courts.  We also see the fundamental unfairness in Housing Court where all the poor tenant in an eviction case has no lawyer, but the landlord almost always does. The court’s technical procedures and language make it impossibly difficult for the average unrepresented tenant to protect his or her rights. Thousands get evicted every year, and thousands end up in the city’s shelter system. Lawyers make a huge difference for a low income tenant in Housing Court – having a lawyer can make the difference that saves the family home.”

"As a tenant leader with Make the Road New York, I have always had access to an attorney to protect me in court," said Gladys Puglla, Tenant Leader and Board Member of Make the Road New York. "I know how important it was for me to receive this extra support to avoid eviction in my building. When 99% of tenants who enter housing court do not have legal representation, not only do we risk losing our homes, we also risk losing our city. I applaud Councilmember Mark Levine for taking this stand and encourage the rest of the New York City Council to stand up for low-income tenants as well."

"We are excited to work with a talented and dedicated group of City Councilmembers and community groups to advocate for the right to counsel in Housing Court," said Jaron Benjamin, executive director of the Met Council on Housing. The right to counsel is not only a just proposal, it is a financially smart plan that would help to preserve existing affordable housing while preventing homelessness"

“Preserving affordable housing for New Yorkers necessarily begins with the right to counsel in eviction cases.  The proposed program, above all others, will prevent homelessness by giving at-risk individuals and families the legal representation they desperately need to have a fighting chance,” said Christopher M. Schwartz, Supervising Attorney at MFY Legal Services, Inc.

"The Legal Aid Society was founded on the idea that low-income people should have equal access to justice when facing grave matters such as eviction from their home.  While most of the landlords seeking eviction are able to hire attorneys, the overwhelming majority of tenants facing eviction are forced to represent themselves.  In many instances, the expertise of an attorney yields starkly different results and makes all the difference between a family maintaining a home and being rendered homeless," said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society.

“For each tenant evicted due to lack of counsel, the City permanently loses an affordable housing unit.  The success of the Mayor’s housing plan requires a strenuous effort to prevent needless displacement of tenants by providing essential legal services,” said Ed Josephson, Director of Litigation, Legal Services NYC

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