New Yorkers to get legal aid for foreclosures

February 16, 2011 11:34AM

New York Court officials outlined procedures yesterday to ensure that homeowners facing foreclosure are represented by a lawyer, a change that could give tens of thousands of families a better chance at saving their homes, the New York Times reported. Criminal defendants are guaranteed a lawyer, but New York will be the first state to try to extend that agreement to foreclosures. Only the banks have lawyers in more than half of the 80,000 active foreclosure cases in New York. “It’s such an uneven playing field,” said Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge. “Banks wind up with the property and the homeowner winds up over the cliff, on the street. It doesn’t serve anyone’s interest, including the banks.”

This would also benefit the courts by making foreclosure proceedings more efficient, Lippman said. Under the procedures, which will be put in place in Queens and Orange counties in the next few weeks and across the state by the end of the year, any homeowner in foreclosure who does not have a lawyer will be supplied one by legal aid or other pro bono groups. Lippman is requesting a $100 million increase in legal services programs spread over the next four years. Current financing for legal services in New York is about $200 million a year. According to Donald Saunders, director of the civil division of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, New York’s action “will shift the debate.” He added, however, that fiscal realities could trump other considerations. [NYT]