Over the last several years, New York City has been aggressive in seeking to decrease the number of evictions that happen in the city, going so far as set aside nearly $50 million in 2014 and 2015 to provide legal services for residents facing eviction.
Now, the city is taking its fight against evictions to another level by becoming the first city in the country to guarantee legal representation to low-income tenants who are facing eviction.
On Thursday, the New York City Council voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation that would provide legal counsel to all residents facing eviction in some form.
Under the legislation, which passed by a 42-3 margin, low-income tenants would get full legal representation throughout the eviction process, paid for by the city.
Other tenants will receive “brief legal assistance,” which will also be paid for by the city.
According to details from the New York City Council, “access to legal services in these critically important proceedings helps to level the playing field between landlords and tenants while allowing more New Yorkers to remain in their homes.”
The council notes that the city’s initial efforts to expand access to legal services, as noted above, increased the percentage of represented tenants from 1% in 2013 to 27% last year, while residential evictions dropped by nearly a quarter.
Under the legislation, the city’s civil justice coordinator is now required to establish programs to provide all tenants facing eviction with access to legal services within five years.
The legislation also states that by October 2017, the coordinator must establish and begin implementing a program to provide legal services to all tenants of New York City Housing Authority buildings in administrative proceedings to terminate their residency.
“Too many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers face eviction simply because they don’t have the means to hire an attorney. Today, the passage of this bill marks the beginning of a new era for tenants in New York City,” said Council Member Mark Levine, one of the bill’s sponsors.
“New Yorkers have a right to affordable housing and to a fair justice system. No longer will low-income tenants have to fend for themselves in Housing Court. This new law is an historic step forward in the fight against unlawful evictions,” Levine continued. “I am honored to stand alongside my colleagues as New York becomes the first city in the country to guarantee legal representation for low-income tenants in Housing Court, and I look forward to working with elected officials across the country to draft similar legislation.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the passage of the legislation.
“Everyone, no matter their income level, deserves access to counsel to stop wrongful evictions and keep their homes,” de Blasio said in a statement.
“Prevention is a key component of our plan to address the economic drivers of homelessness, which is why this administration has made significant investments in tools and tactics to help New Yorkers remain in their homes,” de Blasio continued. “Thanks to Speaker Mark-Viverito and the council, this new legislation will help more people stabilize their lives and keep roofs over their heads. We vow to continue fighting every day to level the playing field.”
John Pollock, the coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, said that while New York City is the first to make a move like this, other cities will soon follow suit.
“No city or state has done what New York City has to guarantee counsel in eviction cases,” Pollock said. “But a lot of places are now saying, ‘We want to be next.’”