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City first in country to provide low-income tenants free counsel for wrongful evictions

Onlookers applaud after Mayor Bill de Blasio signs legislation that makes New York the first city in the nation to provide lawyers for low-income tenants facing wrongful evictions.
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Low-income New Yorkers facing wrongful eviction will be guaranteed legal representation in Housing Court after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation into law last Friday.

The program, which is overseen by the Civil Justice Coordinator at the Human Services Administration, will serve 400,000 tenants when it is fully implemented in five years.

“New York City will be the first city in the country to ensure anyone facing an eviction case can access legal assistance thanks to this new law,” de Blasio said. “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.”

Previously, almost no tenants had legal representation in Housing Court — estimated at just 1 percent in 2013 by state court officials — which resulted in high incidents of evictions and unchecked tenant harassment. To help close the gap, the administration increased the availability of city-funded legal services to low-income tenants, increasing funding from $6 million in 2013 to $62 million in 2016, a tenfold increase.

Under the new law, tenants who earn less than $50,000 a year will be eligible for free legal assistance. Beginning in October, the program will also start providing free legal services to NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings. There are nearly 3,200 cases that go through NYCHA administrative hearing, annually.

“Access to counsel is an important victory for New York City tenants,” said City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), the Chairman of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services. “For too long, the deck has been stacked against tenants in Housing Court, as many low-income New Yorkers could not afford legal representation. 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 keep families together.”

City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, called the new measure a huge victory for millions of New Yorkers because it will provide security and economic stability for working-class families.

“With the enactment of this legislation, New York City is sending a clear and uncompromised message that we believe tenants are entitled to safe and affordable housing free from market pressures that promote illegal harassment and displaceme­nt.”

The mayor delivered a warning to unscrupulous landlords.

“The message is: ‘Don’t even try it.’ Don’t even try to illegally evict a tenant. Don’t even try to illegally harass a tenant, or illegally deprive them of repairs, or illegally deprive them of heat and hot water,” de Blasio said. “Because the game is up. If you treat a tenant in an illegal manner, you, the unscrupulous landlord, you will pay the price for what you do to these tenants. That’s the message we’re sending, because now everyone has a lawyer.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 12:40 pm, August 23, 2017
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Reader feedback

confetti politics from Queens says:
What a hoot. Bill Parry is (again) hiding the dreadful fact that it is NY politicians, viz, de Blasio, Cuomo, Schumer, the scheming Clintons et al who are purposefully having low income tenants evicted by bribing landlords. These landlords are paid big money to set up unjustified evictions to satisfy corrupt pols' (and has-been pols) plans to gentrify all of NYC. Many good citizens wonder why the homeless pop has risen so drastically, and this is the reason why. Timesledger, Bill Parry, and the rest of those people who drum up false stories will never tell the truth to the people.
Aug. 23, 2017, 3:04 am
Helton from Flushing says:
I hate to be the grammar police, but this is embarrassing to read.

Your headline uses the word "council" when referring to legal advice.

The correct word in this instance is "counsel", not "council."

Oh boy!
Aug. 23, 2017, 10:05 am
Helton from Flushing says:
Thank you TL for the headline correction!
Aug. 23, 2017, 6:48 pm

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