Advocates credit new ‘Right to Counsel’ law with large drop in evictions

Posted On Wed, March 27, 2019 By

Posted On Wed, March 27, 2019 By In affordable housing, Policy

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As 6sqft previously reported, in August of 2017, the city passed a Right to Counsel law which provides free legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. In its first year the law, which will eventually guarantee representation in housing court to all low-income tenants, provided free legal services to more than 87,000 New Yorkers, and 21,955 New Yorkers threatened by eviction were able to stay in their homes. A new analysis released this week, conducted by the Community Service Society, shows that the decline in evictions happened more than five times faster in zip codes where the Right to Counsel law is currently in effect than in similar zip codes where the law is not in effect.

The city recently presented maps and statistics showing that residential evictions by marshals had been drastically reduced–by 37 percent–between 2013 and 2018. And in 2018 alone, that percentage decreased by 14 percent. Now, the new report shows that in its first year, the law has significantly decreased evictions.

The law is currently in effect in 20 New York City zip codes and will be implemented citywide by 2022. According to the report, 60 percent of the people who were able to remain in their homes in 2018 despite eviction proceedings benefited from legal representation under the new law.

The study compares zip codes where the Right to Counsel law is currently in effect to zip codes without Right to Counsel that have comparable rates of poverty and eviction, and comparable numbers of rental units. The zip codes where the law has been implemented accounted for over 60 percent of the overall decline in evictions analyzed, illustrating the effectiveness of the new policy at keeping low-income tenants in their homes.

Some key findings:

  • From 2017 to 2018, evictions declined more than five times faster in zip codes where the Right to Counsel law has been implemented than in similar zip codes where the law has not yet taken effect.
  • Right to Counsel accounted for more than 60 percent of the overall decline in evictions.
  • Tenants were three times as likely to receive legal services in RTC zip codes, compared to comparable non-RTC zip codes.
  • More than a third of tenants with incomes between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (and therefore not covered under Right to Counsel, which only extends to those with incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty guidelines) experience one or more housing hardships, including being threatened with eviction, falling behind on rent, and moving in with other people.

The advocacy organization Right to Counsel NYC Coalition is currently working on Intro 1104, which, if passed, would expand the law’s income threshold to 400 percent of the poverty level. The report found that the additional law could cover 31 percent more tenants in housing court, meaning that nearly all tenants facing eviction in housing court would have access to legal representation.

“This report confirms what we at Legal Services NYC know to be true—Right to Counsel prevents evictions,” Marika Dias, director of the Tenant Rights Coalition at Legal Services NYC, said.

“With 200 advocates defending tenants against eviction citywide, Legal Services NYC attorneys successfully prevent eviction in the overwhelming majority of cases we handle, and in all cases we ensure that tenant rights are upheld. When NYC tenants fought for a right to counsel, they did so believing that having lawyers would help stem the tide of displacement and keep tenants in their homes. They were right!”

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