Right to Counsel, New York City, New York

New York City’s Universal Access to Legal Representation Law (or Right to Counsel (RTC)) is the first in the country to provide right-to-counsel in housing cases. The 2017 law allocates $155 million over five years to a program that provides free legal representation to tenants for eviction or other housing-related matters. Since its inception, the program has raised the number of represented tenants from 10 to over 27%, decreased evictions by 23%, and has saved the city an estimated $320 million per year.1 Initially implemented in the Bronx, the program is set to expand to other boroughs beginning in 2020. 

New York City passed the Universal Access to Legal Representation Law in 2017. The purpose of the law is to provide free legal services for eligible low-income tenants. Initially targeting four ZIP codes in the Bronx: 10457, 10462, 10467 and 10468 the program has since expanded to other zip codes across all five boroughs. The city has planned to gradually expand the law application to the whole city by 2022. 

Right to Counsel provides critical services to low-income residents in New York City, where over 70% of households are renters and more than 200,000 eviction cases were filed by property owners per year.2 Whereas approximately 95% of property owners were represented by attorneys, only about 1% of tenants had legal representation. To help address the disproportionate legal representation between landlords and tenants, RTC provides comprehensive free legal assistance for tenants, including services such as: 1) representing tenants in court; 2) stopping an eviction; 3) getting an order for repairs; 4) figuring out if the rent you are charged is too high; 5) connecting you with service agencies that can help; 6) negotiating with your landlord; 7) preparing and filing court papers.

In order to be eligible for free legal assistance, tenants must meet the household annual income eligibility requirements. Below shows the corresponding amount of household yearly income with number of people living together:  

# of People in Home

Household Yearly Income

1

$24,130

2

$32,480

3

$40,840

4

$49,200

5

$57,560

6

$65,920

7

$74,280

8

$82,640

(source: New York City Housing Court, https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/housing/freeLawyerQualify.shtml)

Lawyers may assist with both holdover cases and nonpayment cases. A holdover case means “to evict a tenant or a person in the apartment for reasons other than simple nonpayment of rent.” Since the passage of the law, eviction rates for low-income tenants have been reduced by 20% in 2020.3 This legislative approach is one example of how cities can provide right-to-counsel assistance to protect low-income tenants. 

Publication Date: 2017

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