Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation guaranteeing most low-income tenants access to lawyers if they face eviction, making New York the first city in the country to offer such protections.
The free legal services will be offered to tenants who earn up to double the federal poverty line — $49,200 annually for a family of four — or roughly 80 percent of tenants facing eviction cases. In 2007, about half of the families in New York City’s homeless shelters became homeless within five years of an eviction, according to intake data.
New York’s program will be phased in over a five year period, starting with certain zip codes spread across all the boroughs, and then gradually expanded. Housing advocates are calling on the government to prioritize legal services for seniors and people with disabilities in addition to the location-based roll out.
Marika Dias, director of the Tenant Rights Coalition at Legal Services NYC, says the new law will be an important tool in the fight against displacement and gentrification in a city where affordable housing is disappearing while rent continues to rise. “In the current real estate environment in New York City, tenants are really vulnerable,” she tells the website MotherJones.com. “And there are a lot of incentives for landlords to displace, in particular, rent-regulated tenants in low income communities that are facing gentrification.”
Despite recent efforts to expand services in New York City, more than 70 percent of low-income residents still go without representation in housing court, according to a city government report. Until now, it’s been on tenants facing eviction to try to find legal services on their own through systems that Dias describes as challenging to navigate. “Under the new initiative, with a right to counsel there will be many, many more access points for tenants,” she says, “and the goal is for tenants to be able to connect with attorneys at the earliest possible stage of their case.”
Ideally, the best way to deal with a landlord/tenant dispute is to avoid having them in the first place. If you’re looking for an apartment with a decent landlord that won’t think the courts are the first option in a dispute, contact a representative at Waterman Realty and Tax Pro, today.