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Bill Granting Low-Income Tenants Lawyers During Evictions, Signed into Law

By Kate Pastor | August 11, 2017 6:04pm | Updated on August 14, 2017 8:30am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the 'Right to Counsel' bill in the Bronx Aug. 11.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the 'Right to Counsel' bill in the Bronx Aug. 11.
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Kate Pastor

THE BRONX — Low-income families will now get free legal representation during eviction proceedings under a law signed Friday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The "Right to Counsel" bill, passed by the City Council in July, funds housing court lawyers for New Yorkers facing eviction or foreclosure who earn up to double the federal poverty line — $49,200 annually for a family of four.

Higher-income people will also get legal consultation, but will not be represented in court.

In 2015, almost 22,000 New Yorkers were evicted, according to City Councilman Mark Levine's office. Only about 20 percent of people facing eviction are represented by an attorney. The law aims to level the playing field in housing courts, which have long been criticized for exacerbating inequities between landlords and tenants.

"For too long unscrupulous landlords have used housing court as a weapon to push out tenants by hauling them into court, often on the flimsiest of eviction grounds, knowing that the other side would not have an attorney," said Levine, who co-sponsored the bill.

"The era of any New Yorker losing their home because they simply didn't have an attorney ends today, for tenants in private housing and tenants in public housing as well."

Prior to the passing of the law, de Blasio said, low-income tenants facing of evictions were defenseless and would end up in shelters costing the city money.

"For a long time when that eviction notice came it felt like the ballgame was over," de Blasio said, adding that people felt "powerless." That, he said, was about to change.

"God forbid anyone gets that notice. The next thing they're gonna do is they're gonna reach for their phone and they're gonna call 3-1-1 and they're gonna get a lawyer to defend them. It's gonna be as simple as that," de Blasio said. 

Levine said New York leading is the way for similar legislation in other cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago and Philadelphia. De Blasio said the bill will impact hundreds of thousands of people.

The signing took place at Community Action for Safe Apartments, a membership driven tenant organizing project, in the Concourse area of the Bronx.

The bill was also co-sponsored by Vanessa Gibson.

Correction: Due to an editing error, the poverty line for a family of four was doubled. It is $49,200, not $98400.