On July 20th, the New York City Council passed a bill that would require all tenants facing eviction to have legal representation. The bill requires that the Civil Justice coordinator implement the bill within five years. Low-income individuals with eviction cases in housing court would have full legal representation while all other tenants not qualified would receive brief legal assistance. Low-income individuals are New Yorkers with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line – or $49,200 annually for a family of four.
The program is expected to help more than 400,000 New Yorkers each year, according to a report by commissioned by the New York City Bar Association. According to the City’s Indpendent Budget Office the full cost of implementing the Right to Counsel is estimated to be $155 million. The City believes it will save $320 million. The savings would come from the reduction of costs associated with housing evicted individuals and preserving regulated apartments lost to evictions
Intro 214-B was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson. Mr. Levine stated “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. 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. 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.” The City Council states that as of 2013 landlords were represented 99% of the time in court while tenants were represented only 1%. By 2015 tenant representation was up to 20% according to Mr. Levine while having legal representation reduces the chances of eviction by 77%.
Co-sponsor of the bill Vanessa Gibson stated “This is a monumental day for tenants and a historic day for the City of New York. After four years of advocating, rallying, and marching, we can finally celebrate the passage of ground breaking legislation that will curb the homelessness epidemic and end the cycle of eviction plaguing New York City. With a right to counsel in place, tenants facing eviction will finally be on an even playing field with the landlords taking them to court. I am proud to have spent four years fighting for this critically important legislation and am so thankful to the many elected officials, advocates, tenant leaders, clergy leaders, and civil legal service providers who joined Council Member Mark Levine and me in bringing equity and justice to our housing court system.”