Press Releases

New York City Bar Association Supports Two City Council Bills Expanding Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases

In advance of the February 24 New York City Council hearing on implementation and expansion of right to counsel (“RTC”) in Housing Court, the New York City Bar Association has issued reports in support of two bills currently pending in the City Council related to expanding the landmark RTC in eviction cases in New York City: (1) Int. 1529-2018, which requires the Office of Civil Justice coordinator to work with community groups to educate tenants of their rights in housing court; and (2) Int. 1104-2018 which (a) increases the RTC’s income eligibility level from 200 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, and (b) expands the types of eviction cases covered by RTC. 

“The City Bar supports these bills, which we believe will ensure that all vulnerable tenants facing eviction will have the right to an attorney in their fight to keep their home while also providing them with the information needed to help them prevent potential eviction in the first place,” said City Bar President Roger Juan Maldonado, who will be testifying about the reports at today’s hearing.

In August 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Int. 214-B into law, which created a right to counsel in eviction cases by providing free legal representation to tenants in households whose income falls below 200% of the federal poverty level. The Civil Justice Coordinator of the Office of Civil Justice (“OCJ”) is charged with implementing the program, with the goal of achieving representation for all eligible tenants by 2022. In the two years since New York became the first city in the country to create a RTC in eviction cases, the effort has transformed the playing field for low-income New Yorkers. As outlined in the City Bar’s reports, tenant representation in housing court has drastically increased, eviction proceeding filings have sharply declined and there has been an increase in pretrial motions and a corresponding decrease in emergency orders to show cause. But most importantly, the law has helped ensure that more New Yorkers remain in their homes. For those New Yorkers represented by an Office of Civil Justice-funded attorney in FY 2018, 84 percent were able to prevent eviction.

Despite the success of RTC, the astronomical cost of living in New York City reveals the insufficiency of the current financial eligibility levels for representation. Int. 1104-2018 seeks to increase the number of struggling New Yorkers who have access to the substantial benefits of RTC by raising the income eligibility level from 200% of the federal poverty level to 400% of the same, expanding coverage from individuals with incomes of $24,980 to $49,960 and four-member households with incomes of $51,500 to $103,000. “These moderate-income New Yorkers are predominantly working in healthcare, education, social services, retail and hospitality, and are almost as likely to experience a housing hardship as low-income tenants.  Moreover, moderate-income tenants receive considerably less public assistance than low-income New Yorkers. This is a vulnerable population filled with hard-working New Yorkers who form the backbone of the City’s labor pool. By increasing the income eligibility threshold, Intro 1104-2018 will ensure that the vast majority of vulnerable New Yorkers facing eviction will have a powerful legal ally in their fight to level the playing field and stay in their home.  This equates to more stable families and neighborhoods as well as a reduction in the negative externalities imposed upon the City by evicted tenants.”

Int. 1529-2018 requires the Civil Justice Coordinator of OCJ to work with community groups to educate tenants of their rights in housing court, and to create the necessary infrastructure within the communities to ensure that tenants take advantage of their rights. Such efforts include workshops and training for tenants, distribution of literature about housing rights, assisting tenants to form and maintain tenant associations, referring tenants to designated community groups, and “any other activity to engage, educate or inform tenants about their rights in housing court.” Additionally, the Coordinator would be required to publish an annual report on community outreach on tenants’ rights. Such an education and outreach program would allow New York City to maximize the chances that everyone who is eligible will avail themselves of the right to counsel in eviction proceedings. “Int. 1529-2019 bolsters the right to counsel because more residents will know such a right exists. Thus, the ‘David versus Goliath’ tension between tenants and better-resourced landlords in Housing Courts will be further equalized with passage of Int. 1529-2019. Consequently, tenants will be better able to prevent the crippling effects of homelessness and displacement.”

The reports can be read here: