OUR "RIGHT TO COUNSEL, POWER TO ORGANIZE" CAMPAIGN WORKS TO EXPAND THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL TO FURTHER STOP EVICTIONS IN NYC
Right to Counsel (RTC) has been a huge success in stopping evictions of low-income New Yorkers. In the first two years of RTC’s five-year phase-in, 84% of the tenants who had a lawyer under the law remained in their homes. Evictions in RTC zip codes declined by 29% since the law was implemented in 2017.
While RTC has been successful, there are still several ways NYC can expand its first-in-the-nation law to ensure more tenants have and use this right. We are grateful that NYC Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who championed the city's groundbreaking RTC legislation, have introduced two bills that would strengthen the law: Intro 1104 and Intro 1529. Sign our petition to Mayor de Blasio urging him to pass these bills:
Other cities have already passed RTC laws that are even stronger than ours. San Francisco did not set income eligibility limits and Newark, NJ’s law covers appeals. NYC’s RTC law will be fully phased in by 2022. Now is the time for NYC to continue to set the standard for the nation and strengthen its RTC. Our "Right to Counsel, Power to Organize" campaign is calling for new legislation to be passed that would expand NYC's current RTC law.
INTRO 1104: WE WANT TO EXPAND WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL
Intro 1104 increases RTC's income eligibility level and expands the types of eviction cases covered by RTC.
Increase the income eligibility level:
To be eligible for full legal representation under NYC’s current RTC law, a tenant’s household income must be 200% or below the federal poverty level (FPL). That is a yearly income of less than $25,520 for a single adult or less than $52,400 for a family of four. This means a single New Yorker working full-time and making the $15 minimum wage would not qualify for RTC. Faced with an eviction, working class tenants would not be able to afford a lawyer. Without a lawyer, these tenants are more likely to get evicted. We are calling for an increase of RTC’s income eligibility level from 200% of the FPL to 400% (which is a yearly income of $51,040 for a single adult and $104,800 for a family of four). Tenants with incomes between 200%-400% of the FPL make up an estimated 31% of tenants in housing court. Doubling the income threshold may help an additional 56,000-71,000 households facing eviction each year in housing court, meaning almost everyone who is in housing court now would be eligible for full legal representation.
Expand the law to cover more eviction cases:
Currently, RTC only covers eviction cases that take place in NYC’s housing courts. While most eviction cases are held there, several hundred are left to higher courts or administrative hearings. All low-income tenants facing eviction, regardless of their type of case, should have the right to a lawyer. Additionally, though the current law guarantees tenants a lawyer for the entirety of their cases, it does not cover appeals. With more tenants than ever being represented and winning their cases, landlords are filing more appeals. Without legal representation to defend their victories, tenants will be left alone when the final and most important decision is made.
INTRO 1529: WE WANT TO ENSURE TENANTS KNOW ABOUT AND USE THE RIGHT TO COUNSEL
Intro 1529 requires the city to work with trusted tenant organizing groups to engage and educate tenants about their rights. While our work to stop evictions and decrease eviction filings is proving to be successful, we must also ensure that landlords don’t find other ways of forcing tenants to move out—outside of the legal court process. A report by Robin Hood found that 54% of forced moves that take place in NYC are the result of informal evictions, such a tenant leaving due being told to leave, landlord harassment, a lack of repairs, etc. In order for RTC to continue to be effective, everyone needs to know about it, understand it, and use it as a tool to address all their housing issues. With all the new rent laws recently won in NY state, it is especially important that tenants fight for their rights, knowing that they have the right to a lawyer if their landlord did try to evict them in retaliation. When tenants don’t know or use their rights, they are more easily harassed out of their apartments. This leads to the displacement of mostly poor tenants of color in NYC.
Yet, we estimate that the majority of tenants don't know about RTC. A survey done by volunteers at Bronx Housing Court found that 53% of tenants who had a right to a lawyer didn’t know about this right before arriving in court. This means tenants might decide not to appear in court, decline representation, sign agreements with landlord attorneys prior, decide not to ask for repairs in fear of being evicted, and a host of other severe consequences. Intro 1529 would require the city to support organizers who would work to ensure that tenants know about their Right to Counsel and feel supported using it. Everyone who is eligible for RTC has a right to know about it!
TAKE ACTION ON OUR "RIGHT TO COUNSEL, POWER TO ORGANIZE" CAMPAIGN TO EXPAND RTC
Sign our petition to Mayor de Blasio urging him to pass Intro 1104 and Intro 1529, and then get others to sign, too:
More than two-thirds of City Council Members support our bill—a major and rare feat! Check out this track sheet of Council Members who have signed on to our bills and contact yours if they haven't. Included on the 2nd page is a how-to guide and script.
LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR "RIGHT TO COUNSEL, POWER TO ORGANIZE" CAMPAIGN
- Campaign 1-pager: English | Spanish | Bilingual
- Campaign Factsheet: English | Spanish | Bilingual
- Campaign FAQ
- "What Tenants Are Saying About The Power to Organize Bill (Intro 1529)" brochure: English | Spanish
- Hard copy of the petition: Click here to download and print
- Check out the legislation and which Council Members are currently sponsoring the bills: Intro 1104 and Intro 1529
- New York City Bar Association reports in favor of Intro 1104 and Intro 1529
- Right to Counsel and Stronger Rent Laws Helped Reduce Evictions in 2019, a report by the Community Service Society of New York
- NYC Right to Counsel: First year results and potential for expansion, a report by the Community Service Society of New York
- NYC Office of Civil Justice 2019 Annual Report
- NYC Office of Civil Justice 2018 Annual Report
- NYC Office of Civil Justice Universal Access 2019 Report
- NYC Office of Civil Justice Universal Access 2018 Report
- Forced Moves and Eviction in New York City, a report by Robin Hood and the Columbia Population Research Center
- Tipping the Scales: Right to Counsel is the Moment for the Office of Court Administration to Transform Housing Courts