New York Housing Right to Counsel
New York City has established a city-funded right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction proceedings. The right to counsel law, Local Law 136 of 2017, amended the New York City Administrative Code § 26-1301 et seq. The law now requires New York City to build up the capacity of the City’s nonprofit legal services organizations over five years so that by 2022, the nonprofit organizations will be able to provide attorney representation for every low-income household in New York City that is subject to eviction in Housing Court.
Intro 214-B requires the Office of Civil Justice Coordinator to establish programs to provide all tenants facing eviction with access to legal services within five years. Low-income individuals with eviction cases in housing court would have full legal representation, while other tenants would receive brief legal assistance. Intro 214-B was passed into law on August 11, 2017, making New York City the first city in the country to ensure that every eligible tenant can receive the benefit of full representation by an attorney in an eviction proceeding. (Local Law No. 136  of the City of New York.) 2247 Webster Ave. HDFC v. Galarce, 90 N.Y.S.3d 872, 877 (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 2019).
Universal Access to Counsel (“UAC”) is being phased in over five years, to be fully implemented in 2022, and is supposed to be operating in 20 zip codes across the New York City's Housing Courts. There are four zip codes in each of the five boroughs that are currently covered under the UAC. UAC is based on established data depicting a fundamental imbalance of power in Housing Court, and the statistically supported principle that full representation by an attorney makes a quantifiable and qualitative difference for poor tenants in the outcome of proceedings in Housing Court. Through UAC, eligible tenants are guaranteed full representation in Housing Court, regardless of the merits of their case, a model akin to that of public defenders for criminal cases. 2247 Webster Ave. HDFC v. Galarce, 90 N.Y.S.3d 872, 877.
This legislation will “ensure ... full legal representation” for income-eligible defendants in judicial eviction proceedings and limited legal services for other tenant-respondents. Income eligibility is defined as annual gross household income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The term “full legal representation” means ongoing legal representation provided by a designated organization to an income-eligible individual and all legal advice, advocacy, and assistance associated with such representation. Full legal representation includes, but is not limited to, the filing of a notice of appearance on behalf of the income-eligible individual in a covered proceeding. Administrative Code of New York § 26-1302.
Tenants facing termination of tenancy from public housing and tenants facing eviction who are not income-eligible but are otherwise qualified will receive brief legal assistance. The term “brief legal assistance” means individualized legal assistance provided in a single consultation by a designated organization to a covered individual in connection with a covered proceeding. Administrative Code of New York § 26-1301.
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