Mayor Bill de Blasio today signed Intro. 214-B into law, and solidified the City’s commitment to providing all low-income tenants facing eviction with legal representation in Housing Court. The program, which is overseen by the Civil Justice Coordinator at the Human Resources Administration, will serve 400,000 tenants when it is fully implemented .
“New York City will be the first city in country to ensure anyone facing an eviction case can access legal assistance thanks to this new law. New Yorkers should not lose their homes because they cannot afford a lawyer and stopping wrongful evictions from happening makes both ethical and economic sense,” said Mayor de Blasio. “I want to thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and the Council for bringing this legislation into fruition and helping keep New Yorkers in their homes no matter their income level, making our city an even fairer city for all.”
"Everyone deserves access to legal services, especially when it comes to something as important as their home," said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "Access to counsel is about leveling the playing field and providing all tenants facing eviction with access to legal advice or representation. No tenant should fear losing their housing simply because they could not afford a lawyer. This is landmark legislation that will greatly impact the lives of residents of this city and I want to thank Council Member Mark Levine and Council Member Vanessa Gibson for working diligently on this bill and the Mayor for his support on this critical issue of tenants' rights."
Prior to this legislation, nearly no tenants had legal representation in Housing Court – estimated at just 1% in 2013 by state court officials – which resulted in high incidences of evictions and unchecked tenant harassment. To help close the gap, the Administration dramatically increased the availability of City-funded legal services for low-income tenants, increasing funding for legal assistance for tenants facing eviction and harassment from $6 million in 2013 to $62 million in 2016, a tenfold increase.
The program successfully increased tenant representation in Housing Court from 1% in 2013 to 27% in 2016, and provided more than 50,000 households with legal services since 2014. At the same time, residential evictions by marshals declined by 24 percent, allowing 40,000 people to remain in their homes during 2015 and 2016.
Last February, the Administration agreed to more than double this financial support, dedicating an additional $93 million at full implementation for a comprehensive program to provide access to legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings in Housing Court earning up to 200% of the federal poverty line and brief legal assistance for all tenants facing eviction in court whose income is above that level. In total and once the program is fully implemented, the City will spend $155 million annually to cover the costs of the initiative.
Beginning this October, the program will also start providing legal services to NYCHA tenants in administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. There are approximately 3,200 cases that go through NYCHA administrative hearings annually.
To ensure that tenants know their rights and at-risk communities have access to these services, the City’s Public Engagement Unit and the Human Resources Administration will be conducting outreach across the program areas. Tenants are encouraged to call 311 if they are facing an eviction and/or visit HRA offices located in housing courts.
“Universal access to counsel in housing court will level the playing field for tenants facing eviction and prevent more New Yorkers from facing homelessness,” said Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks. “This is the culmination of everything we have done over the past three years to expand access to counsel for tenants, and we’re looking forward to working with our partners in the legal services community as we implement this groundbreaking access to justice initiative.”
“Too many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers face eviction simply because they don’t have the means to hire an attorney. The Council’s passage of this bill marked a new beginning of a new era for tenants in New York City, and I’m proud to stand with the Mayor as he signs this landmark legislation,” said Council Member Mark Levine, lead sponsor of Intro 214. “New Yorkers have a right to affordable housing and to a fair justice system. No longer will low-income New Yorkers have to fend for themselves in Housing Court. This new law is a historic step forward in the fight against unlawful evictions.”
“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, the ground breaking legislation that will curb the homelessness epidemic and end the cycle of eviction we've fought tirelessly to create will become New York City law. With access 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 Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, my partner in this endeavor Council Member Mark Levine, the many elected officials, advocates, tenant leaders, clergy leaders, and civil legal service providers who joined me in securing universal access to counsel for New Yorkers and bringing equity and justice to our housing court system,” stated Council Member Vanessa Gibson, co-sponsor of Intro 214.
“Too many tenants in New York City have been evicted from their homes simply because they cannot afford legal representation,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Providing access to counsel to all low-income tenants in housing courts will go a long way in ensuring our City’s most vulnerable citizens are protected and defended. I want to thank Mayor de Blasio for signing this landmark legislation, introduced by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, into law and guaranteeing our tenants have the rights they deserve.”
“For too long the deck has been stacked against low-income tenants, most of whom do not have attorneys, because most landlords have representation in housing court. That is no longer the case, thanks to the new system laid out by this incredibly important 'Access to Counsel' legislation," said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. "I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for their strong commitment to tenants' rights, and for leading us to where we are today. I especially want to thank two of my colleagues from the City Council, Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, for their tireless advocacy on behalf of this important piece of legislation. Together, we have struck a blow for a more fair and just housing court, and that is something we can all be proud of.”
Above - Mayor Bill de Blasio talks about the importance of this bill, and the impact it will have giving tenants a fighting chance now in Housing Court.
Below - Bronx BP Ruben Diaz Jr. congratulates the mayor and City Council for passing this legislation.
Above - The mayor gives the Bronx X to BP Diaz Jr.
Below - Mayor de blasio poses for photos before he uses the first of many pens to sign Intro 214. Each elected official, and selected tenant leaders were given a pen used to sign Intro 214 to keep.
Above - Mayor de Blasio starts to sign Intro 214 into law.
Below - A slimmer looking Bronx Democratic County Leader Assemblyman Marcos Crespo shows off the pen he received from Mayor de Blasio that was one of many used to sign Intr 214.