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June Volunteer Feature: Pro Bono Partnership established with Dechert, Patterson Belknap Tyler and Webb, Seyfarth Shaw, and Venable

Law Firms Enforce Housing Subsidies for Low-Income Tenants: Pro Bono Partnership established with Dechert, Patterson Belknap Tyler & Webb; Seyfarth Shaw; and Venable

On March 26, 2008, the New York City Council enacted Local Law 10, which prohibits landlords from refusing to lease, rent, or sell housing to individuals whose income is comprised of benefits received from the government or other sources, such as Social Security, veteran's benefits, welfare, pension funds, and Section 8. This amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law was necessitated by discriminatory practices - as apartment advertisements including statements such as "no programs allowed" or "working people only" - employed by landlords against low-income New Yorkers.

Shortly thereafter, tenants began contacting The Legal Aid Society to report that landlords were continuing to refuse rental subsidies. Many of the tenants, a number of whom had waited as long as fifteen (15) years for Section 8 vouchers, were elderly or single mothers who paid 60 - 80 percent of their income towards rent. Others were forced to use their entire income for rent, seeking additional funds from financially stressed family or friends.

After taking on over 90 such cases, The Legal Aid Society had exhausted its limited resources. The Legal Aid Society then established a pro bono partnership with Dechert; Patterson Belknap Tyler & Webb; Seyfarth Shaw, and Venable to represent existing tenants with Section 8 vouchers who are being harmed by their landlords' discriminatory practices. Dechert, under the direction of Thomas Munno, Managing Partner of the law firm's New York office, took on a leadership role through the representation of nineteen clients. The Patterson firm (associates Claude Platton and Nicholas Suplina) took on some of the more complicated cases, litigating a preliminary injunction motion based on retaliation before a New York State Supreme Court judge. All of the firms' attorneys had the opportunity to develop their litigation skills in New York State Supreme Court and to ensure that vulnerable tenants were not discriminated against merely on their source of income.

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