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City Council votes in favor of tenants’ legal representation

Stephon Johnson | 7/27/2017, 10:50 a.m.
Last week, the New York City Council decided that low-income tenants deserve legal representation in housing court.

Last week, the New York City Council decided that low-income tenants deserve legal representation in housing court.

The council voted to pass Intro 214-B, which would require the Civil Justice Coordinator to establish programs that would provide tenants facing eviction with access to legal services within five years. Low-income individuals, in particular, with eviction cases would have full legal representation in housing court. Others would receive brief legal help.

New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who sponsored the bill alongside Council Member Mark Levine, said that this bill passed as a result of years of hard work.

“After four years of advocating, rallying and marching, we can finally celebrate the passage of ground-breaking legislation that will curb the homelessness epidemic and end the cycle of eviction plaguing New York City,” said Gibson in a statement. “With a right to counsel in place, tenants facing eviction will finally be on an even playing field with the landlords taking them to court. I am proud to have spent four years fighting for this critically important legislation and am so thankful to the many elected officials, advocates, tenant leaders, clergy leaders and civil legal service providers who joined Council Member Mark Levine and me in bringing equity and justice to our housing court system.”

According to the legislation, by this October, the coordinator would start implementing a program that would provide legal services to all New York City Housing Authority tenants in administrative proceedings to evict them. The coordinator would hold annual public hearings and provide reports on the program’s effectiveness.

“An individual’s socioeconomic status should have no bearing on their access to competent legal representation, especially when it comes to matters being handled in housing court,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement. “With this legislation, the Council reaffirms its commitment to protecting tenant rights across New York City, and I thank Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson for their relentless dedication in pushing this legislation forward and pursuing justice for New Yorkers across the five boroughs.”

According to Mark-Viverito, as recently as 2013, 99 percent of New York City landlords were represented in housing court compared with 1 percent of tenants. The city’s expansion of access to legal services post-creation of the Civil Justice Coordinator resulted in a 27 percent increase in tenants having legal representation. Residential eviction also dropped by almost 25 percent.

“We’re facing a massive affordability crisis and housing challenges like never before. With cost of living skyrocketing, we need to help working families get by,” said Comptroller Scott Stringer in a statement. “No tenant should face eviction alone. That’s why ‘Right to Counsel’ is morally right—and financially smart. It will prevent unfair and illegal evictions, keep families in their homes and off the streets and mitigate homelessness by keeping New Yorkers out of the shelter system. It’s a bold plan that speaks to who we are as a city. I want to thank Council Member Levine for championing this critical cause.”

“As a CASA leader and person who was in a complicated eviction case I am proud that NYC is taking leadership by passing right to counsel,” added Community Action for Safe Apartment Tenant Organizer Randy Dillard. “This right will give tenants a fighting chance to navigate complicated and technical processes of housing court! Today NYC takes a stand to listen to balance the scales of justice in housing court. Having a lawyer stopped me from being homeless and being in a shelter after being in court for two years.”