A Powerful Month of Actions in NYC Housing Courts

Last month, tenants held two actions at Bronx and Manhattan housing courts to defend and expand Right to Counsel! 

On Monday, October 2nd, tenants rallied with elected officials outside of Bronx Housing Court to demand that the courts uphold Right to Counsel (RTC). Tenant leaders and organizers from across the city spoke to over 200 tenants standing in a line stretching down the Grand Concourse, waiting to go through security. The vast majority of tenants wspoke with did not have an attorney or know they had a right to one. During the rally, speakers talked about the urgent need for Right to Counsel: Since the lifting of the eviction moratorium in January 2022, more than 36,000 tenants have gone unrepresented in their housing court cases. This is not right! Our coalition has put forth a number of solutions to address the crisis, which include legislation mandating that tenants have the time they need to secure Right to Counsel attorneys and issuing an administrative order – which Chief Judge Wilson has the power to do – that would require the courts to pause cases until tenants have Right to Counsel.

The very next week, on Wednesday, October 11th, tenants disrupted a panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of NYC housing court by chanting: “There’s nothing to celebrate. Evictions discriminate.” The panel event was hosted by the Frank H. Williams Judicial Commission, which focuses on addressing racism in the courts, and was attended by some of the city and state’s most powerful judges, including Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo, and Judge Jack Stoller. Tenants started the disruption a couple minutes into Judge Stoller’s remarks.

One tenant stood up saying, “More than 36,000 households have been forced to face their eviction alone since January 2022. THERE’S NOTHING TO CELEBRATE!” Soon afterwards, another tenant sitting a couple rows behind her shouted, “More than a quarter of Black children in rental households face eviction every year. THERE’S NOTHING TO CELEBRATE!” Then another tenant interjected with, “Black and brown tenants are facing eviction without Right to Counsel. Judge Rowan Wilson must PAUSE ALL CASES until all eligible tenants have RTC! THERE’S NOTHING TO CELEBRATE!”

A group of about a dozen tenants marched out chanting: THERE’S NOTHING TO CELEBRATE, EVICTIONS DISCRIMINATE! Once outside, they joined a group of more than 50 tenants who were picketing the event. 

We have made our demands to DEFEND RTC loud and clear, but the courts continue to move cases forward without Right to Counsel. This is a violation of our rights! We are calling on the Chief Judge Rowan Wilson to use his power to issue an administrative order pausing eviction cases until eligible tenants have Right to Counsel. Each day that he fails to act, more tenants are prevented from accessing this powerful right that is proven to keep tenants in their homes. 

It’s also outrageous that a commission focused on racism in the courts held a panel celebrating housing court: The courts have allowed more than 10,000 tenants in NYC to be evicted since the eviction moratorium lifted! When we’re able to prevent evictions, we achieve greater neighborhood stability, continuity in education for young children, and reduction in harmful health outcomes. Evictions disproportionately impact Black and brown families, and Black women and children in particular bear the brunt of evictions and the trauma they cause. Evictions are racial violence! 

We know that 84% of tenants with RTC are able to stay in their homes. By not using his power to act, Judge Rowan Wilson is denying a key protection that could work to correct the power imbalance in a system that landlords have been using as a tool for eviction and displacement for five decades. As Thern Shivers, a tenant leader with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition put it: “This is life and death…The consequences for acting are too high.”


Join Our Fight to DEFEND Right to Counsel

CLICK HERE TO CALL CHIEF JUDGE WILSON'S OFFICE to demand that he issue an administrative order pausing cases until eligible tenants have Right to Counsel.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP FOR COURT WATCH to talk to tenants in housing court and let them know they have rights, that they can demand an adjournment, and share how they can get involved in the work to DEFEND Right to Counsel and stop evictions.