The Real Deal New York

Why landlords could soon have a much tougher time evicting poor tenants

NYC could be first jurisdiction in US to guarantee lawyers for low-income residents
September 27, 2016 10:09AM

Illustration of Lawyers outside of the Bronx Housing Civil Court

Illustration of lawyers outside of the Bronx Housing Civil Court

Evicting tenants may soon prove a lot more challenging for New York City landlords. The City Council is considering a bill that would automatically provide lawyers to all low-income residents facing eviction proceedings.

Tenants who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify for a city-sponsored lawyer under the terms of the bill, which was heard Monday by the Council.

That means a single person who earned under $23,540 would be eligible, as would a family of four living on less than $48,500. The bill is widely expected to pass a City Council vote, though the de Blasio administration hasn’t yet endorsed it. An estimate from an independent advisory firm estimated that it would cost the city $200 million a year to provide representation to low-income tenants facing eviction.

If it does become law, it would follow a growing trend of tenants armed with lawyers squaring off against their landlords in Housing Court.

A recent report from the city’s Office of Civil Justice found that 27 percent of tenants who appear in Housing Court work with an attorney, a massive jump from the 1 percent who did in 2013. The number of evictions by a marshal has dropped by 24 percent in the same time.

But the majority of these types of tenants remain without representation, unlike New York City landlords who usually work with attorneys for Housing Court matters. There were nearly 22,000 evictions last year in the city, with the greatest number in the Bronx, according to the New York Times.

The supporters of the bill say it is about “leveling the playing field” between landlords and tenants. Council member Mark Levine, along with Council member Vanessa Gibson, sponsored the legislation.

“Housing Court is a weapon that unscrupulous landlords use to displace tenants,” Levine told the Times.

In June, The Real Deal reported on the legal — but often questionable — methods some landlords use to evict rent-stabilized tenants.  [NYT]Miriam Hall