NEW YORK (PIX11) – A backlog of eviction cases and the right to an attorney being denied is creating a new eviction crisis in New York City, tenant advocacy groups claim.
On Wednesday, advocates rallied outside the Office of Court Administration to slow down cases from being heard so that tenants do not have to represent themselves in Housing Court.
New York State’s eviction moratorium expired in January. Advocates claim a pandemic backlog of 200,000 eviction cases coupled with a lack of attorneys to meet the demand is leaving tenants without legal representation.
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine is one elected official who wrote the Right to Counsel bill while in the New York City Council, which went into effect in 2017 and requires the city to provide tenants with free legal representation dependent on their income.
“They cannot handle a caseload that is so great, and the result is there are thousands of tenants who are not getting their legally entitled right to an attorney fulfilled,” Levine said.
Levine’s office says an additional 53,000 eviction cases were filed in the first six months of this year. OCA told PIX11 News that those numbers are inflated and that there are 86,000 total active cases but agreed that there aren’t enough attorneys.
Since March, at least 3,000 tenants who qualified for the right to counsel were denied, and since the moratorium expired, more than 1,500 have been evicted, the advocacy groups claim.
“It’s been [proven] that the Right to Counsel worked because 84% of tenants got to stay in their home before the pandemic,” said Randy Billard of the non-profit organization CASA.
Levine is demanding the court slow down the number of cases being heard to match the volume of legal service providers available.
“Do not let any case go forward if the tenant does not have their right to counsel, if the tenant does not have a lawyer,” Levine added.
Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration, told PIX11 News in a statement:
“We have a meeting with the Housing Working Group, representing both the Right to Counsel Providers and City’s Office of Civil Justice scheduled for August 24 where we will be strategizing about resolutions. It is not our first meeting to resolve issues of tenant representation exacerbated by the lack of attorneys working for the providers. The pending case inventory is no greater than before the pandemic. Adjourning cases into perpetuity is not the solution for either the petitioner or respondent.”
The tenant advocates are also calling on Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks to immediately issue an administrative order where only cases with tenants who have secured a Right to Counsel attorney can move forward.