Low-income renters in Queens will be able to get the representation they need when facing eviction in Housing Court thanks to a new piece of legislation.
On Friday, Aug. 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation that will provide access to counsel to low-income New Yorkers who need representation in wrongful eviction cases in Housing Court.
“New York City will be the first city in country to ensure anyone facing an eviction case can access legal assistance thanks to this new law,” said de Blasio. “New Yorkers should not lose their homes because they cannot afford a lawyer and stopping wrongful evictions from happening makes both ethical and economic sense.”
“Predatory landlords are a tenant’s worst nightmare,” added Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “Helping renters stay in their homes prevents homelessness, but more than that, it lets low-income renters exercise their rights as tenants. This law will help level the playing field between tenants and the landlords who prey on them.”
Prior to this legislation, it is estimated that 1 percent of tenants in 2013 did not have legal representation in Housing Court, resulting in high incidences of evictions and unchecked tenant harassment. To bridge that gap, the funding for legal assistance for tenants facing eviction and harassment raised from $6 million in 2013 to $62 million in 2016.
Since the increase, tenant representation in Housing Court from 1 percent in 2013 to 27 percent in 2016, and provided more than 50,000 households with legal services since 2014. Residential evictions by marshals also declined by 24 percent, allowing 40,000 people to remain in their homes during 2015 and 2016.
“Appropriate and stable housing is essential for families for their health, to succeed in work and school, and to remain safe,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the Finance Committee. “Providing legal counsel in housing court for all New Yorkers is the right thing to do and an essential way to protect the rights of tenants.”
In February 2017, the Human Resources Administration agreed to increase the financial support, dedicating an additional $93 million at full implementation for a comprehensive program to provide access to legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings in Housing Court. When the program is fully implemented, the city will spend $155 million annually to cover the costs of the initiative.
“For too long, the deck has been stacked against tenants in Housing Court, as many low-income New Yorkers could not afford legal representation,” said Councilman Rory I. Lancman, Chair of Committee on Courts and Legal Services. “The result of this injustice was that individuals and families were left to defend themselves and oftentimes evicted from their homes. Ensuring that every city resident facing eviction has access to counsel in Housing Court will give tenants a fighting chance to defend themselves and help keep families together.”
Starting this October, the program will also start to provide legal services to NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. The program will serve 400,000 tenants when it is fully implemented in five years.
To ensure that tenants know their rights and at-risk communities have access to these services, the city’s Public Engagement Unit and the Human Resources Administration will be conducting outreach across the program areas. Tenants are encouraged to call 311 if they are facing an eviction and/or visit HRA offices located in housing courts.