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City Council close to guaranteeing legal protection for tenants facing eviction

The new program will likely serve 400,000 New Yorkers a year

Next week, City Council will vote to guarantee New Yorkers facing eviction access to a lawyer in housing court, a move that would help level the playing field between tenants (who rarely have lawyers) and landlords (who almost always do), reports the New York Daily News.

The Council and the mayor’s office—De Blasio is one of the bill’s main sponsors—are still “hammering out final details,” but according to council member Mark Levine, who’s spent the last two-plus years advocating for such a measure, the bill “goes even further than what we’d initially envisioned.”

“It’s not only going to cover all tenants whether they're in privately owned housing or public housing when they're facing eviction in housing court,” Levine told the Daily News, “but it's going to push even further and begin to cover NYCHA residents when they're in administrative tribunals, which is a preliminary step to housing court.” (Those NYCHA residents will get some type of legal services, the Daily News notes, which “could include counseling of lawyers.)

In criminal court, of course, people are guaranteed attorneys—if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you. But historically, that hasn’t been true in housing court. For years, Levine told the paper, more than 90 percent of tenants in housing court didn’t have lawyers, “even though in 99 percent of cases they’d be facing an attorney representing the landlord.”

While the number of tenants with lawyers is now up to 27 percent, according to the city, thanks in part to the Office of Civil Justice and an increase in eviction prevention legal services—it’s not yet a fair fight.

And the stakes are high. "Eviction is about the worst thing a family can go through, and it impacts health and employment opportunities and schooling and, in a painfully high number of cases, it means families land in homeless shelters," Levine said.

The new program covers families with household incomes below about $50,000, per the mayor’s February announcement, and will likely serve 400,000 New Yorkers a year.

And there’s more where that came from: City Council also has a newer bundle of tenant-friendly legislation in the pipeline. Introduced in April, the bills are designed to give residents more leverage when battling harassment from landlords.