New Legislation Would Protect Tenants In Housing Court
With all the obstacles facing middle and lower income tenants who find themselves in major battles with their landlords concerning possible eviction cases, there are few challenges more taunting than the lack of council in housing court. In 2013 alone 300,000 eviction notices were issued throughout the five boroughs. Of those who found themselves in housing court that year about 1% was able find a lawyer to represent them in court. 99% of the defendants however found themselves going up against high powered attorneys who are often used by building owners and landlords. The outcome is usually predictable, either the tenant leaves on their own accord or they find themselves out gunned in the court room. The vast majority of those eviction notices filed, 246,864, were granted by a judge. Research has shown that the presents of a lawyer representing the tenant could have created a very different outcome in many of these cases. Unfortunately Pro Bono lawyers tend to be too few in number to make a real different in the eviction flood while city organizations which have been set up to save guard residents from abuse face steeper and steeper financial cut backs each year. Housing rights groups and progressive lawmakers who chair the New York City Council have now teamed up to revive a plan that would guarantee everyone the right to council housing court in much the same way as those who find themselves in criminal court.
As homelessness hits record numbers throughout the NYC area the move to revive the March 14th 2005 proposal first brought by the Lawyers’ New York Association would seem paramount. Publications195_0.pdf . Studies which were used for this report found that most of those who face eviction and even homelessness find themselves with severe health problems due to stress. But the issue of eviction does affect whole communities, especially neighborhoods of color which tend to be the ground zero of gentrification. As a result, the mass clearing of entire buildings is not so uncommon since so few people in these communities have the resources to defend themselves in court. Researchers have also found that guaranteed council would have prevented many of the evictions and the problem of homeless may not have ballooned to the numbers we see today which is just over 55,000 according to the Coalition For The Homeless http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/basic-facts-about-homelessness-new-york-city-data-and-charts.
Similar legislation was proposed in 2007 by then Council members Rose Mendez and Alan Gerson which would have drastically changed the “administrative code in New York City in relation to providing legal counsel to tenants” according to one report. If the bill had passed it would have guaranteed low income and other at risk tenants who were facing the loss of their homes and possible homelessness council in court. For a complete breakdown of eligible tenants you can check out Gazette article to find the pdf to this report.
According to Emily Jane Goodman of the Gotham Gazette less than 12% of tenants who face eviction have the resources to even be able to pay for a lawyer, as of 2006. She also pointed out the difference between criminal court and housing court which is civil which has been the root cause of so many evictions throughout the city. http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/public-safety/3134-housing-court-should-tenants-have-a-guaranteed-right-to-counsel. Now that there is a larger alliance to push this new legislation through, only time will tell if the tide will finally turn for the most vulnerable residents throughout the five boroughs.
Until Next Time…