HOUSING COURTS MUST CHANGE: OUR DEMANDS DURING COVID-19 AND BEYOND

En Español aquí

IMMEDIATELY

1. Extend the Universal Eviction Moratorium

  • The state acknowledged the inhumanity of evictions during COVID-19, but the crisis won’t end on June 20.  We need to expand the moratorium for at least a year after NY’s State of Emergency ends to lessen the physical, mental, emotional, and financial impacts of the pandemic. 
  • An estimated 40% of New Yorkers could not pay in April rent. These numbers aren’t getting better. While we are fighting for real solutions to this problem by pushing NY Governor Cuomo to #CancelRent, we know that landlords will always try to sue tenants in court. From challenging a cancellation of rent in court, to attempting to sue tenants for claims other than non-payment, we know that landlords will stop at nothing to make their profit.  The amount of eviction cases brought to courts when the moratorium lifts could be unprecedented. 
  • We need to ensure that any eviction moratorium put in place is universal. This means no evictions, for anyone, for any reason for the length of the crisis. 

BEFORE HOUSING COURTS REOPEN: 

2. Ensure Everyone Facing Eviction Has and Knows About the Right to Counsel

  • Right to Counsel(RTC) works. In the first two years of RTC in NYC, 84% of tenants who had a Right to Counsel lawyer won their case and stayed in their homes. 
  • Courts are complicated and hard to navigate. It will be even more challenging to navigate during and after the crisis. Tenants should not do this alone.
  • We also need to fund and support more tenant organizers across the city to help their communities use their Right to Counsel. With the state rapidly issuing new policies during the crisis, it is all the more reason to invest in tenant organizing, which builds networks across the city that keep tenants informed and supported.
  • Prior to COVID-19, there was overwhelming support to expand the Right to Counsel and fund tenant organizing. More than two-thirds of City Council Members were in support of legislation that addressed these issues along with more than 25 organizations and thousands of tenants. 

3. Slow Down Eviction Cases

  • Housing court eviction cases were designed to move fast and give landlords quick remedies, unlike other civil cases. Once landlords start a case, the court is required to set a court date within 2 weeks and there is enormous pressure on judges to move cases along fast. Due to the high volume of cases, the laws regulating eviction cases, and the power of the real estate industry to make the laws work in their favor, court culture and practice has historically been to make cases move as fast as possible. This must change. 
  • The unreasonably fast pace of eviction cases would be especially problematic when the courts reopen amidst this public health crisis. Before COVID-19, courts were packed. Nearly 2,000 tenants went through the Bronx Housing Court alone, every day. The courts must ensure they are not putting tenants’ health at risk.
  • Regardless of when courts reopen, we can expect there to be a barrage of eviction cases. We need to slow down the pace of housing court to ensure that tenants are safe and protected.

4. Hold Landlords Accountable 

  • Most cases are brought by landlords to evict tenants. But court should be a place that upholds tenants' right to live in a safe and dignified home, free from harassment and retaliation. The city and the state could do so much more to prioritize cases that uphold tenants rights over landlords' right to sue and evict, and restrict which landlords are allowed to sue and when. Housing courts, and any courts where tenants rights are being defended, cannot open until systems to better enforce tenants’ rights are in place. 

5. Prioritize Health, Safety, and Accessibility

  • Before COVID-19, many courts were crowded, inaccessible to various vulnerable communities, and otherwise problematic spaces for a variety of reasons. It is time for the courts to truly prioritize safety and accessibility to ensure they are putting the health, safety, and needs of all tenants first.