New York, NY — On July 20, 2017, the New York City Council passed legislation that will provide legal counsel for low-income tenants who are subject to eviction, ejectment or foreclosure proceedings. The right to counsel legislation is a part of the Progressive Caucus’ ADVANCEMENT policy platform. Championed by Progressive Caucus Member Mark Levine, ensuring the right to counsel will allow more low-income New Yorkers to remain in affordable housing and stabilize communities across New York City. Unlike in criminal court, there is no right to counsel in housing court, leaving tenants without resources to fend for themselves. Today, only about 20% of those facing eviction are represented by an attorney–compared to nearly 100% of landlords. This groundbreaking legislation will level the uneven playing field that has historically been disastrous for tenants. In 2015 alone, nearly 22,000 New York City families were evicted, with thousands more forced from their homes mid-way through eviction proceedings.
“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 City Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of Intro 214. “No longer will low-income New Yorkers have to fend for themselves in Housing Court. New Yorkers have a right to affordable housing and to a fair justice system. This new law is an historic step forward in the fight against unlawful evictions. 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.”
Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Progressive Caucus Co-chair said, “This is a huge victory for our communities, and I want to thank all of my colleagues who worked so hard to make this happen. Tenant lawyers representing my constituents in housing court have made a huge impact on stabilizing neighborhoods in my district, and this bill will ensure that they can expand their work to keep tenants in their homes and help keep our communities diverse.”
“Passing Right to Counsel is a huge victory for all New Yorkers as we can now fight back against the prevalent injustices and victimization of low-income tenants in New York City. Leveling the playing field by providing legal representation in housing court will provide housing security and economic stability for many working-class families,” said Progressive Caucus Co-chair, Council Members Donovan Richards. “With this important legislation, the Council 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 Right to Counsel is a big step toward balancing the scales of justice and gives tenants a fighting chance in housing court,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Progressive Caucus Vice-Chair of Policy. “For decades landlords have had an advantage because they could afford attorneys when trying to evict tenants. Access to legal representation is a constitutional right, not a privilege only for the well-to do. I am proud to stand behind this bill that will keep many families who would have otherwise been evicted off the streets and out of our shelter system. Thank you to Council Member Levine for his tireless commitment to getting this legislation passed by the City Council.”
Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Progressive Caucus Vice-Chair of Budget Advocacy said, “Currently, 90% of landlords have lawyers in housing court, while 70% of tenants do not. Housing court is hardly fair when only one side has legal representation. By investing in lawyers for tenants, we can help keep New Yorkers in their homes, and ensure that this disturbing imbalance finally comes to an end. Intro 214, the Right to Counsel, is a truly historic step in the effort to protect New York City tenants, safeguarding them from unjust and unreasonable evictions and taking on one of the leading causes of homelessness in the city. I salute Council Member Mark D. Levine for leading the charge on this critical issue.”
“This is a triumphant win and will ensure some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers are given a fair opportunity to make their case. By passing the Right to Counsel, we’re recognizing that having a lawyer in NYC’s housing court can be the difference between keeping a stable home for your family or falling into homelessness,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Thanks to Council Member Levine for working to ensure low-income tenants get the fair chance they deserve.”
“Together, we are standing in support of New Yorkers at risk of losing stability, their community ties, and their very homes,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “For far too long, the scales have been tipped against New York families facing eviction through the unfamiliar and unforgiving legal system. With this legislation, these families will have a fighting chance to stay in their homes. That’s why this is so important. I applaud Council Member Levine and my Progressive Caucus colleagues on spearheading this instrumental protection for New Yorkers at their most vulnerable.”
“This is a landmark day in our city’s history, where we come down firmly on the side of tenants,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “For far too long, tenants were left to fend for themselves against landlords using illegal means to force them out of their homes. Establishing this right to counsel in housing court will stem the tide of homelessness and give our city’s residents a fighting chance. I could not be prouder to support this legislation and the many lives it will change. I want to thank Council Member Levine, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the de Blasio administration for working so hard to get this done.”
“Low-income New Yorkers are one of the more vulnerable populations in the City, and in turn in need of added resources and assistance. Unlike in criminal court, tenants are not afforded free legal counsel in housing court, giving landlords, who almost always have legal representation, an advantage,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams. Given the housing crisis in this City and the record high number of New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, it is our duty as legislators to give all New Yorkers a level playing field in housing court.”
“Providing civil legal services to tenants not only prevents coercion and abuse, but it saves money, as well. When tenants are unsuccessful in our complex legal system—or simply give up out of frustration—their unmet legal needs invariably take a toll on local government and on the taxpayers, as evidenced by the record numbers of people housed in our city’s shelter system. The long-term costs of unrepresented individuals in our legal system touch all aspects of a community,” said Council Member Debi Rose.
“By providing universal legal representation for tenants being forced out of their homes, this vital legislation puts an end to the vicious cycle that dooms low-income residents to eviction,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Access to affordable legal representation should be a fundamental principle of a more fair and equitable city. Residents who are facing eviction and are already struggling with financial or language barriers should not have to go to Housing Court on their own. As the first major municipality in the country to guarantee universal access to counsel for tenants with eviction cases, our City is setting a strong example for how our nation can lead the fight against displacement and homelessness. I thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Member Levine for their commitment to protecting some of our most vulnerable residents.”