Pro Bono News
NYC's Legal Assistance Program For Tenants Is Saving Thousands From Eviction (NY)
Thursday, November 15, 2018
NYC's Legal Assistance Program For Tenants Is Saving Thousands From Eviction
"For almost a year now, New York tenants who live in select ZIP codes have been entitled to a free lawyer if their landlord tries to evict them, thanks to a law passed by the City Council in 2017. But you might not know it from walking into the Bronx Housing Court on the date of your court appearance. Only one sign on each of the building’s five floors lists the ZIP codes that are currently covered as the five-year rollout of the law continues. These signs are handwritten in marker, and two of them were inaccurate on a recent November afternoon.
If you went straight into the courtroom and waited for your case to be called, you still might not know: the two judges assigned to the covered ZIP codes in the Bronx only announce the existence of the right-to-counsel program once a day.
Today, the city will hold the first public hearing on the the right-to-counsel law, which took effect in January after a broad coalition of organizers spent years pushing for its passage. Lawyers, tenants, and advocates who spoke with Gothamist ahead of the hearing said the implementation of the program thus far has been promising, but uneven. Court-appointed lawyers have started to transform the predatory environment of housing court, resulting in fewer evictions, but some eligible tenants still slip through the cracks, and implementation has been more successful in some boroughs than others.
Before the hearing, the city’s Human Resources Administration released a report showing that nearly one third of tenants who appeared for eviction cases this year were represented by lawyers, up from only 1% of tenants in 2013. According to the city’s analysis, this new representation prevented over 22,000 evictions across the five boroughs. By 2022, legal services will be available to anyone in New York who makes up to double the federal poverty level— $30,000 for an individual, or $50,000 for a family of four.
For a Bronx tenant named Pamela, who asked that we withhold her full name due to her ongoing legal proceedings, the mere fact of having a lawyer on her side made all the difference. Her landlord took her to court claiming she didn’t send rent checks that she says were cashed. With the help of her Legal Aid lawyer, she pushed for an adjournment, and the court subpoenaed the landlord’s financial records in order to investigate who cashed the checks and when..."