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Why is the Right to Counsel so important?

Evictions are about power.

At least half of all tenants who are evicted, wouldn’t be if they had an attorney. That means landlords evict tenants because they have power, not because the law supports them.

About 97% of cases in housing court are initiated by landlords and almost all landlords have representation while the vast majority of tenants don’t.

Landlords sue tenants they shouldn’t because they can get away with it. When landlords tell tenants that the case is a simple issue of paying rent, they deny them access to the power of the complex and vast housing law to defend their homes! Some people say that there is more housing law in NY than all of the federal laws combined---tenants should have access to it! Right to counsel changes that.

The power of eviction isn’t just felt by tenants in housing court. It’s felt every time someone thinks about calling 311 to report unsafe conditions, or going to a tenant association meeting. Tenants know that being behind in rent makes them vulnerable, especially if they fight for their rights. Having a right to live in safe housing doesn’t mean very much if landlords have so much power. RTC says tenants are worthy to be represented, to know their rights and to advocate that they be respected and that our city will guarantee their defense. RTC should strengthen tenant organizing!

Many tenants don’t fight their case but move out when they get court papers. Many pay rent they don’t owe. Right to Counsel can and should change that.

Evictions are about Race and Class.

Every year landlords try to evict over 230,000 mostly low income, Black and Brown New Yorkers. Many are immigrants and most are women. RTC doesn’t just stop evictions, it helps stem the tide of the mass displacement of poor people of color

The Tenant Movement Won this Right!

After a three year campaign led by a large coalition, grounded in tenant organizing, we won this! Tenants testified, rallied, marched, signed petitions and much more in order to win this new right. WE ARE POWERFUL WHEN WE ARE ORGANIZED. RTC isn’t just about fighting to stay, it’s about fighting to stay and win back the the city we need and deserve.

What is Right to Counsel?

Right to counsel is a bill that was signed into law in August 2017. It means that tenants who are sued for eviction in housing court, and who are income eligible, have a right an attorney to defend their case. It doesn’t matter what kind of eviction case they have or what kind of tenant they are (section 8, live in a house, rent stabilized, NYCHA, etc). If a tenant is over income, they have the right to a legal consultation or advice session.

Can all tenants get a lawyer right now?

YES! Pre-pandemic, RTC was being phased in by zip codes; that is no longer the case. Right now, the city is assigning RTC attorneys to all cases that are moving forward in Housing Court, regardless of income, where you live or immigration status.  Tenants with notices of upcoming court dates in eviction cases should reach out to get an attorney.  Tenants will also be assigned attorneys at their hearings if they appear virtually (by phone or video conference) or in person. If you have a notice of a court date or an illegal lockout:

  • Call 718-557-1379 or 212-962-4795 from Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm.
  • Call 311 and ask for the Tenant Helpline
  • Email OCJ at [email protected]. Please provide a name, telephone number, and Housing Court case index number for your eviction case (if known) in your email.

I’m not in court for an eviction but I want to sue my landlord for repairs, do I have the right to an attorney?

You don’t. You still may be able to get an attorney but this law isn’t about affirmative cases. There are A LOT of things you can do to get repairs. You can demand repairs in court and without going to court or in addition to going to court. 

  • Form a tenants’ association
  • Write a letter to your landlord
  • Engage the media
  • Go on rent strike
  • File for a rent reduction

There are so many things you can do! Don’t limit your action to court. Contact your local tenant organizing group to find out more!

Get connected to a lawyer and a tenant organizing group in your neighborhood at or call the RTC hotline at 718-557-1379.