City expands free legal services for tenants, fearing eviction rush

Mayor signs bill giving representation to all low-income renters facing eviction

Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty)
Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty)

New York renters will have another lifeline when the statewide eviction moratorium sunsets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday signed a bill expanding the city’s Right to Counsel program, which offers free legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction.

The legislation accelerates the program’s rollout before the state and federal eviction bans end. De Blasio and the City Council first deployed Right to Counsel in 2017 in certain ZIP codes with the goal of covering the city by July 31, 2022.

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As of last week, New Yorkers are protected under the statewide eviction moratorium through Aug. 31. The federal moratorium runs to June 30. But both bans are being challenged in court.

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Meanwhile, a backlog of residential eviction filings has piled up in the city — more than 51,000 since March 2020, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

Housing courts are set to reopen May 24, fully staffed.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the landlord group Rent Stabilization Association, cautioned that the free lawyers could worsen the backlog. He called for a streamlined execution so owners can receive back rent to fund repairs, upgrades, property taxes and bills.

Landlords argue that the eviction ban deters some tenants from paying even when they can, and prevents landlords from bringing in paying tenants.

De Blasio signed a second bill in tandem with the expansion that requires the city to collaborate with community groups to educate tenants on their rights in Housing Court.