Tenant advocates rally outside Brooklyn housing court over Right to Counsel law

October 29, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN —  Dozens of tenant advocates and elected officials rallied outside of the Kings County Housing Court on Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn Friday to call out the Office of Court Administration for allegedly denying Brooklynites legal representation, despite it being guaranteed under the Right to Counsel law.

Beverly Rivers, a leader in the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, called the rally necessary so she and other could defend their homes. Organizers said that the Right to Counsel law has helped them fight common problems such as living with rats, leaks and other dangerous conditions in their apartments.

The city’s Right to Counsel Law went into effect in 2017 and provides anyone under 200 percent of the federal poverty line with a guaranteed attorney. However, many tenant advocates claim the law is not working the way it was intended to and indigent Brooklynites are often left representing themselves in court.

The Office of Court Administration has explained that the number of people lacking representation on cases is less than seven percent. The office also says there are several issues that have caused the discrepancy, but further explained that it will not discriminate on which cases go ahead and which ones are delayed based solely on the petitioner.

“Our Administrative Judge for New York City Civil Court currently leads a Housing Court Working Group, which includes representatives from those legal service providers as well as OCJ and the city to develop workable solutions to the representation issue,” said Lucian Chalfan in a statement.

“Since March 2022, there have been more than 7,000 cases declined by the Right to Counsel providers because of their inability to fulfill their contractual obligations with the city’s Office of Civil Justice. That number is out of approximately 93,741 active residential eviction proceedings as of September 26, 2022, which includes those currently stayed because the tenant has applied for ERAP assistance and cases that do not actually proceed because landlords discontinue them.”

“Asking the Courts to discriminate, as a number of elected officials have done, as to which cases to commence, delay, or adjust when they will be heard, solely on who is petitioning the court, would set a dangerous and potentially unconstitutional precedent. And as the service providers are well aware, there are numerous laws and regulations that exist, dictating case movement, which we are not free to just ignore.”

The event was organized by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, and the Flatbush Tenant Coalition.

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