June 8, 2022
RTCNYC Coalition is deeply disappointed that, as hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face eviction and homelessness, NY State elected officials failed to pass our Right to Counsel for ALL bill into law this legislative session. Tenants are fighting for Right to Counsel for ALL because housing courts remain institutions that uphold white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism, and in many jurisdictions across the state, lawmakers allow landlords free reign to wield courts as tools of eviction and displacement. Our statewide movement builds on New York City’s historic Right to Counsel campaign, and the campaigns of numerous other cities and states across the country where tenants organized to reclaim courts by passing Right to Counsel legislation–because tenants know that Right to Counsel works.
Right to Counsel is proven to reduce evictions and keep tenants in their homes. As of 2021, the seven cities that had Right to Counsel, including New York City, saw up to a 77 percent reduction in evictions. Last year, 86% of tenants in New York City who had a Right to Counsel lawyer were able to win their cases and remain in their homes.
Right to Counsel is a sound investment–for every dollar invested in Right to Counsel, New York State will save somewhere between three to six dollars. Evictions disrupt children’s education, tear apart entire communities, and have other traumatic consequences, especially for New Yorkers of color—and these consequences cost the state millions of dollars that could be saved by stopping this problem upstream through the creation of a Right to Counsel.
Right to Counsel builds tenant power, allowing tenants to organize, combat harassment, and fight for the safe and healthy housing they are entitled to. Evictions aren’t merely about landlords collecting rent–they’re about the exercise of power. When landlords know that tenants have a Right to Counsel, they are less likely to violate tenants’ rights and intimidate tenants by bringing them to court on spurious grounds. When tenants have a Right to Counsel, they’re empowered to claim their housing rights, knowing they will have full representation in court–a tool and a shield for their organizing.
State lawmakers’ decision to not pass Right to Counsel for ALL this session was a failure of political will and a demonstration of cowardice in the face of a powerful landlord lobby. Leadership refused to even entertain our legislation until they had gutted it: the only draft of our legislation they would consider—A7570C/S6678C (Expanded Access to Counsel)—would have expanded access to counsel through an income-capped program with no guaranteed funding. This bill was not Right to Counsel.
The state also failed this session to pass widely-supported Good Cause Eviction legislation. Instead of enacting the eviction defense measures tenants are calling for, lawmakers moved to establish a commission on the maintenance and development of affordable housing. Tenants need immediate and urgent protections. We need lawmakers to act boldly, as soon as yesterday, to correct the gross imbalance of power between landlords and tenants across the state–not a commission.
We were glad to see lawmakers pass the Tenant Dignity and Safe Housing Act (A00354B/S04594B), which will create a system across the state for tenants to sue their landlords for violations. It is imperative that Governor Hochul sign this bill into law. The success of this measure will be fully realized by passing Right to Counsel for ALL and Good Cause Eviction. We must fully ensure that tenants can organize without fear of retaliation, use the court system to exercise their rights, and remain in their homes.
The Right to Counsel Coalition will not stop fighting for a Right to Counsel for ALL, and for a whole-scale transformation of housing courts. Our lives are not mere opportunities for landlord profit-making. As human beings, our dignity demands a Right to Counsel, and an end to evictions across the state. We need Right to Counsel to organize thousands more tenants across the state to fight for decommodified housing as a fundamental human right and for political and economic systems that not just meet our needs, but allow us to thrive. The Right to Counsel coalition will continue building towards that future.”
N’Jelle Murphy, tenant leader with Flatbush Tenant Coalition, said, “When our Albany elected officials failed to pass Statewide Right to Counsel this session, they left a lot of tenants out in the cold with nowhere to go and no one to depend on to stay in their homes. We need elected officials to understand what tenants are going through, the pain of being threatened with losing your home. Our state elected officials live different lives from tenants fighting for their homes. They need to spend time with our communities, communities and families going through evictions and housing court. They need to give us their full attention and prioritize us. RTCNYC Coalition and all our groups and members, we are going to continue to push representatives until they understand what we need. We will continue to push until they bring our bill for a vote so that NY tenants can have statewide right to counsel for all.”
“With eviction cases starting to fill up the local court calendars here in Westchester, the New York Legislature really dropped the ball this past session in not passing the Right To Counsel bill. THIS WAS THE TIME TO ACT! Far too many tenants are still unrepresented and likely to fall victim to landlords’ often questionable court proceedings. The State must move to protect tenants!” says Dennis Hanratty, Executive Director of Mount Vernon United Tenants.
Lauren Springer, tenant leader with Catholic Migration Services, said, “Given the wave of impending evictions facing so many tenants, the legislature's failure to act with all deliberate speed in passing RTC is disgraceful. Their inaction only exacerbates the crisis, resulting in a heavy human and financial toll. In this moment of crisis, tenants will not– and cannot afford to– stay silent. We will continue to fight for what we justly deserve.”