All about the right to counsel for evictions in NYC
While a state may have many statutes, court decisions, or court rules governing appointment of counsel for a particular subject area, a "Key Development" is a statute/decision/rule that prevails over the others (example: a state high court decision finding a categorical right to counsel in guardianships cases takes precedence over a statute saying appointment in guardianship cases is discretionary).
02/24/2020, Legislation, Housing - Evictions
Update: City Council holds hearing on expanding RTC law
On February 24, 2020, the NYC Council had a hearing on two bills to expand the right to counsel for tenants facing eviction: Intro 1529 would require the city to work with tenant organizers that could help to ensure the right is effectively implemented by making sure tenants know and understand their rights, while Intro 1104 would expand the income threshold for eligibility to 400% of the federal poverty level while also covering termination of housing subsidies. Testimony at the hearing revealed that the default rate for evictions (i.e., the rate at which tenants fail to show up for housing court) has dropped by roughly 35% from 2016 to 2019.
Update: Report shows success of new RTC law
The Community Service Society of NY released a report about the impact of the existing RTC law in NYC (32% of the City now has RTC, and there’s been an overall 30% drop in the eviction rate) as well as where evictions are happening in the city as correlated by race and poverty. The Real Deal and The City have more on the report. The report also links to the 2019 report by Community Action for Safe Apartments that found more than half of those in RTC zip codes didn’t know they had a right to counsel until they arrived in housing court, demonstrating the need for additional outreach.
Additionally, Next City covered how evictions are down in NYC thanks to the right to counsel law, while City Limits examined how NYC’s success has benefited and driven the right to counsel movement across the country.
Update: new rent regulations plus right to counsel cause 20% eviction decline
amny and the NY Daily News report on how the eviction rate in NYC is down nearly 20% in the six months since the state passed laws strengthening rent regulation, and advocates attribute the decline to a combination of those new laws plus the expanding right to counsel for tenants in the city.
Update: Report on 2 years of right to counsel shows dramatic success
NYC's Office of Civil Justice has released their report analyzing the impact of the right to counsel in the first several years. Overall, it finds that 84 percent of represented tenants are remaining in their homes, and the eviction rate has declined by over 30 percent since implementation began. Moreover, eviction filings dropped 6 percent from 2018 to 2019 and have dropped 15 percent since the City started funding expanded representation in 2013.
Update: Advocates look to expand RTC law
Not content with achieving the first housing right to counsel in the county, NYC advocates have worked with Council member Mark Levine on introduction of RTC 2.0, which would expand eligibility for appointed counsel from 200% of the federal poverty level to 400% and would also include hearings at some non-housing court venues. The New York Law Journal and AM New York have more.
Advocates have also introduced a bill that would provide funding for tenant organizing groups to better educate tenants on their rights under the new law.
Update: NYC court vacates tenant stipulation because tenant improperly denied counsel
In 2247 Webster Ave. HDFC v Galarce, 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 29 (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 2019), a trial court found that a tenant was improperly deprived of her right to appointed counsel in an eviction due to a clerical error. The court recounted the history of Intro 214 as well as its early success and some of the statistics about the effectiveness of attorneys, then vacated the stipulation the tenant had entered into because it said it could not find that representation would not have made a difference. The court stated:
Indeed, to hold Respondent to this stipulation in the context of the Universal Access to Counsel law would take the case out of the due and ordinary course of today's Housing Court where Respondent was entitled to litigate her case with the benefit of full representation by an attorney.
Vacatur of the stipulation supports the integrity and balance that the Office of Court Justice is charged by law with bringing to litigation in Housing Court. In her unrefuted affidavit, Respondent states that, after speaking with an attorney for the Petitioner, she was left with the impression that she "had to leave the apartment" and that she signed the agreement offered by the Petitioner's attorney because she felt she "didn't have a choice," and might find herself in "more trouble" if she did not sign the stipulation. (Aff of Respondent at 8-9.) This is precisely the type of scenario described by Hon. Jean Schneider in her interview for the New York Law Journal article. As the 144 Woodruff Corp. v Lacrete court opined, "this court cannot permit itself the illusion, comforting though it might be but which our own Chief Administrators have rejected, that settlements in Housing Court are generally the result of arms length transactions between parties of equal bargaining power."
Update: Studies and reports look at first year of implementation
A new policy brief by the Furman Center takes a look at how implementation of NYC’s eviction right to counsel is going, in order to provide useful information to other jurisdictions considering a similar right to counsel. To do this evaluation, they say, "We visited Housing Court facilities across the city, watched how UAC is working, and observed how it is changing practices in those courts. We spoke with members of the judiciary, representatives from legal services providers participating in the UAC program, members of the landlords’ bar, tenant organizers, and other tenant advocates about the challenges and opportunities that implementing the program has posed. To better understand the challenges tenants face and their views about the need for counsel, we interviewed more than 100 tenants, most of whom appeared in Housing Court without counsel and did not live in the zip codes currently covered by the UAC program." City Limits has more on the release of the report.
Additionally, the Community Service Society of NY examined the first year data and found that evictions occurred five times less frequently in the zip codes implementing a right to counsel. Crain's New York Business and The Real Deal covered this analysis.
Councilmembers Levine and Gibson issued a memo to the Chief Judge urging the courts to address some of the implementation issues that have come up in the first year of the right to counsel. The recommendations in the memo came from the Right to Counsel Coalition of NYC.
Update: NYC’s 1st year of right to counsel kept 84% of tenants in homes
The NYC Office of Civil Justice has released its 2018 report detailing the first full year of implementation of the right to counsel in eviction cases. And it has some incredibly impressive numbers:
- 84 percent of all tenants who were provided an attorney in Housing Court remained in their homes (21,955 New Yorkers representing 7,847 households). It is especially notable that the 84 percent figure exceeds the 77 percent figure estimated by the NYC Independent Budget Office. Moreover, 97 percent of those receiving legal services for NYCHA administrative termination of tenancy were able to remain in their homes. These results demonstrate the incredible effectiveness of a right to counsel in preserving housing stability. In considering the reasons for that effectiveness, it is meaningful that nearly three-quarters of those receiving legal assistance for Housing Court obtained full representation.
- Evictions conducted by City Marshalls have dropped by 27 percent overall since 2013, and have declined steadily in all but one year since then;
- 30 percent of all tenants are now represented by an attorney;
- The right to counsel is reaching those most in need: the largest represented group was those making less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, and half of the legal services recipients were receiving public benefits.
Update: Judges testify that efficiency improving with new law
A number of NYC judges testified that the new right to counsel law has had a positive impact on court efficiency and fairness. Judge Jean Schneider, the citywide supervising judge of the New York City Housing Court, testified that "our court is improving by leaps and bounds." The hearings were covered by the NY Law Journal.
Update: Intro 214-b is now law!
On July 20, 2017, Intro 214-b was approved by the City Council, and the Mayor signed the bill on August 11, 2017. Read a piece in City and State New York from bill sponsor Mark Levine, or quotes from the NYC Council Progressive Caucus and City officials. You can also see video clips of the City Council's vote and the celebratory event at the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness's Facebook page.
The bill's passage has been covered nationally by Marketplace, The Nation, Slate, Mother Jones, Baltimore Sun, CityLab, HousingWire, Vice, and Fast Company, and locally by the NY Daily News, Village Voice, NY 1, Gotham GazetteHarlem World,New York Amsterdam News, NY Law Journal (subscription required), 6sqft, Town & Village, DNA Info New York, GlobeSt, Curbed NY, and The Uptowner.
Update: Intro 214 will become law!
On February 12, 2017, Mayor de Blasio announced that the City will be providing "universal access" to counsel for low-income people in housing court, in effect enacting Intro 214-a. A day later, In his State of the City address in February 2017, Mayor de Blasio explained:
If you’re a hard working New Yorker, if you’re someone struggling to make ends meet, if you’re someone who needs legal help, you can’t afford it, and you make anywhere up to $50,000 a year for family of four, you will now be guaranteed a lawyer to go with you into housing court. If you’re facing illegal eviction, you get a lawyer. If you’re facing illegal over charge of rent you get a lawyer. If you’re facing illegal harassment you get a lawyer.
This will happen by increasing the City's eviction legal aid spending by $93 million, which will occur over 5 years. In doing so, NYC will become the first jurisdiction in the country to provide a right to counsel in housing cases, making this an enormous step forward for the civil right to counsel movement.
The news has been covered by the NY Times, Politico, Next City (Feb. 16), Next City (Feb. 21), the NY Daily News, the Gothamist, NY Newsday, Metro, City Limits, the NY Observer, Fox 5 NY, New York YIMBY, News 12 The Bronx (video), The Norwood News, The New York Amsterdam News, AM New York, The Real Deal, Greenline, the Law Professors Network Human Rights at Home Blog, and the Caribbean Life News.
UPDATE: Press Conference Displays Thousands of Postcards in Support of Intro 214-a
On December 13, 2016, the NYC Right to Counsel Coalition held a press conference at which over 7,000 postcards and a letter from almost 100 faith leaders calling for the passage of Intro 214-a were delivered to the Mayor and the NYC Council Speaker. The press conference was covered by Metro New York and NY1 Noticias.
UPDATE: New York City Council Has First Hearing on Intro 214-a
The City Council hearing featured over 80 people testifying in support of the bill, including former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, various borough presidents, and the NYC Bar Association. It was preceded by a press conference, pictured below. The press conference and hearing were covered by the NY Times, Village Voice, Wall Street Journal, New York Law Journal, WYNC, Metro New York, Gothamist, Huffington Post, and Above the Law. A video of the hearing is now available.
UPDATE: NY Times Editorial Board supports Intro 214-a
The NY Times Editorial Board has come out in support of a right to counsel in housing cases, and called on the City to enact Intro 214-a.
UPDATE: City's Office of Civil Justice Releases Report Supporting 214-A
The Office of Civil Justice, created by the City Council and Mayor de Blasio, released its first-ever annual report in August 2016. It found that only about one percent of tenants in housing court facing eviction had lawyers in 2013, compared to 27 percent now. In the same period that housing representation increased so dramatically, evictions handled by city marshals dropped 24 percent. The NY Observer has more about the report and Mayor de Blasio's response, and a New York State real estate blog features responses to the report from various NYC government officials.
UPDATE: Public Hearing on Intro 214-a Draws Hundreds
On December 5, 2014, a coalition of NYC groups held an event called "Housing Justice: A Public Forum on New Yorkers' Right to Counsel in Eviction Proceedings", in support of Intro 214 (there is a video of the event).
A large crowd listens after Chief Judge Lippman opened the event
Attended by hundreds of attorneys, advocates, New York City officials, judges, and community members, the event featured panels of city/county/state bar leaders, housing experts, right to counsel specialists, and affected community members. The event was covered by media outlets Newsweek, Truthout, Capital New York, and The New York Observer.
A view from the back, and the press conference
In 2014, New York City Council member Mark Levine filed a bill (Intro 214) that would guarantee a right to counsel for low-income individuals in eviction and foreclosure proceedings. The bill was re-filed in 2015 (Intro 214-A) in order to raise the eligibility level to 200% of the poverty level. The bill has a veto-proof majority of the City Council signed on to the bill, and is awaiting the scheduling of a hearing in 2016.
The Bill Gains Support and Public Awareness
Noting the incredible disparity in representation between landlords and tenants, the New York City Bar Association endorsed Intro 214 and urged the legislature to increase the eligiblity income cap from 125% of the federal poverty level to 200% (which happened when Intro 214-A was introduced). You can read the full NYC Bar report in support of the legislation.
While New York City Mayor de Blasio has increased funding substantially for eviction defense, a New York Times article described his intention to become more "aggressive" on homelessness by taking such actions as clearing homelessness encampments. In response, NCCRC Coordinator John Pollock wrote a letter to the NY TImes urging Mayor de Blasio to rethink this approach and instead support Intro 214-A. The letter pointed out that such a bill would be a more permanent, humane, and cost effective solution to the homelessness problem.
The NYC Independent Budget Office released a report estimating the cost of providing a right to counsel as $100-200 million. Although the report factored in millions of dollars in shelter savings, it failed to consider potentially substantial savings from other areas, such as jails/prisons, hospitals, and affordable housing construction. The report was immediately critiqued by advocates, and the disagreement over costs was covered by both Newsweek and the New York Times, while two committees of the New York City Bar have supported the legislation and pointed to the likely cost savings.
In April 2016, an independent report commissioned by the New York City Bar Association concluded that rather than costing the City money, the bill would actually save $320 million annually through reducing shelter costs, avoiding the loss of affordable units, and preventing certain expenses (such as law enforcement and emergency medical care) associated with homelessness. Bloomberg covered the release of the report.
You can read more about the bill in our comprehensive bibliography, and check out a video of tenants discussing the issue. You can also see a flyer with a description of the Dec 5 event's speakers and panels. And you can check out the website of the NYC Right to Counsel Coalition.
If "yes", the established right to counsel or discretionary appointment of counsel is limited in some way, including any of: the only authority is a lower/intermediate court decision or a city council, not a high court or state legislature; there has been a subsequent case that has cast doubt; a statute is ambiguous; or the right or discretionary appointment is not for all types of individuals or proceedings within that category.
Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes
NCCRC helped assemble the NYC coalition, spoke at the Dec 5 event, and worked on the SRR report.