Brooklyn tenants demand city strengthen Right to Counsel law
Tenants rights advocates rallied Monday outside Brooklyn Housing Court, calling on the city to bolster a law that guarantees low-income tenants the right to an attorney in housing court proceedings.
Right to Counsel – the legislation passed in 2017 that guarantees that right – is being phased in neighborhood-by-neighborhood and will spread citywide by 2022. The swath of Brooklyn where RTC is already in place includes parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatbush, Bushwick, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Crown Heights.
“We’re calling on the city to expand and strengthen Right to Counsel, so that almost all tenants have Right to Counsel and know about it,” said Sarah Guillet, an organizer with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition.
Guillet and other activists are asking that the city pass two laws securing and strengthening these rights. One would provide tenants with educational workshops on their rights in housing court, and the other would double the income threshold of tenants eligible for RTC.
Tenants represented by RTC lawyers avoid eviction 84 percent of the time, according to Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.
The advocates and tenants also railed against Moshe Piller, who ranked as the fourth-worst Brooklyn evictor on Right to Counsel NYC Coalition’s Worst Evictor list, released on Monday. In 2018, Piller evicted eight families from apartments in neighborhoods that had enacted RTC, according to the site. Over the course of 2.5 years, he issued 222 more filings than there were families housed in his Brooklyn RTC buildings.
“I think Moshe Piller needs to be treated like the people he’s evicting,” said Linda Williams, who has lived in a Piller-owned building at 119 E. 19th St. in Flatbush for 34 years. “We need to be able to evict Moshe Piller from the housing that he owns,” she said.
Williams added that Miller routinely hires unlicensed plumbers and does not respond to maintenance requests from tenants.
Piller sued 652 families in now-RTC neighborhoods between 2013 and 2015, according to the Worst Evictor list. He was ranked the fourth-worst landlord in the city in 2015 and is the landlord of a Bronx building where two children died in 2016 after a faulty radiator exploded in their bedroom.
“He is the number four evictor in this city,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at Monday’s rally. “We want people like Moshe Piller to be held accountable.”
TaShawn Sutherland was evicted from one of Piller’s Bronx buildings in 2016, before the City Council passed RTC.
“At the time, I was disabled. I couldn’t work. I lost my job. I lost my income. I went to HRA for help. And while I was trying to get help, I came home — the [eviction] notice was on my door,” she said. “I lost everything.”
“There’s a lack of equal justice, because it just seems like the court is representing the landlords more than the tenants,” said Estefania Trujillo Preciado, an organizer with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition. “Right to Counsel has been helpful to stop evictions — because in court, 97 percent of landlords have a lawyer, but tenants don’t.”
“It hasn’t been enough,” Preciado added, “because obviously, there’s other tenants that don’t [yet] have a Right to Counsel because of their zip code.”
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