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4 minutes

Right to Counsel gives New Yorkers a fighting chance and brings us closer to making housing a human right.

Dear friends –

In just four minutes our housing attorney Zac Hale delivered striking testimony on the importance of Right to Counsel, which provides representation to all New Yorkers in Housing Court. At a hearing for the Office of Civil Justice last month, Zac explained the program’s impact on the lives of tenants facing frivolous eviction cases and few options in the face of negligent and harassing landlords. Brooklyn A alone has helped over 10,000 New Yorkers stay in their homes in the years since New York City passed Universal Access/Right to Counsel in 2017. For all the impact this number illustrates, Zac’s most notable statement was about one of the clients we represented:

“Our client, an elderly woman, called 311 after her landlord cut off her heat. In retaliation, the landlord locked her out of her apartment, and then proceeded to call the police and make false allegations against her that led to her arrest.

“Brooklyn A worked with her public defender to ensure that the charges against her were dropped, so that they would not prevent her from being restored to her home. We then sued the landlord for illegally locking her out and won after taking the case to trial. Our client was able to change the locks and return to her home.

“Soon after, the landlord tried to change the locks on her again while she was out shopping on a Saturday, but our attorney was able to speak with the police officers who responded, explain the court order and restore our client back into her home.”

Left: Zac Hale delivering testimony on November 18, 2021. Right: Screenshot of Our Rights! Our Power! documentary film on Right to Counsel.

He goes on, “Facing an eviction can be a scary, overwhelming, and isolating time for individuals and families who are already facing both financial and personal hardships. Appearing in court alone is an intimidating process, but thanks to the Right to Counsel law, tenants can show up empowered and informed with an attorney by their side.”

For years to come, we hope that the Right to Counsel program will continue to give New Yorkers a fighting chance and bring us closer to making housing a human right.

Read Zac’s full statement below. You can learn more about Right to Counsel by watching Our Rights! Our Power!, a documentary film about the three- year, grassroots and tenant- led campaign that made NYC the first city in the country to make it a right to have a lawyer when facing an eviction.

Email us at info@bka.org or call (718) 487-2300 for assistance. For a list of our legal services for tenants, homeowners, small businesses, taxpayers, and nonprofits, visit bit.ly/bkakit.

Best,

Brooklyn A

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Full statement:

Testimony by Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A

November 18, 2021

NYC Human Resources Administration – Office of Civil Justice

Good evening, and thank you to the Office of Civil Justice for this opportunity to speak. My name is Zachary Hale and I am a staff attorney with the Preserving Affordable Housing Unit at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A or Brooklyn A. Brooklyn A has been providing low-barrier, high-quality legal services to tenants for over 50 years. In that time, few developments have been as crucial to the safety and security of renters in New York as the City Council’s passage of Universal Access/Right to Counsel in 2017. Before Universal Access, unrepresented tenants faced frivolous eviction cases and had little recourse in the face of harassing and negligent landlords. In just four years, however, the program has enabled providers like us to keep countless tenants in their homes and to keep those homes safe, healthy, and affordable. Brooklyn A alone has helped over 10,000 New Yorkers stay in their homes in the years since 2017. That is over 10,000 New Yorkers who avoided the trauma of forced displacement thanks to the City Council’s enactment and expansion of Universal Access. In a city where more than two-thirds of households are renters, it is impossible to overstate the benefit that access to counsel has brought not only to tenants but to the city as a whole.

Facing an eviction can be a scary, overwhelming, and isolating time for individuals and families who are already facing both financial and personal hardships. Appearing in court alone is an intimidating process, but thanks to the right-to-counsel law, tenants can show up empowered and informed with an attorney by their side. Universal access lifts up our clients and puts them on equal footing with their landlords, providing the dignity of legal representation without the burdensome cost.

Without Universal Access, many tenants would be unable to afford an attorney and therefore, would have to proceed pro se. Navigating the legal process as a pro se litigant is very challenging. As recently as 2013, only 1% of tenants in housing court were represented by lawyers, compared with 95% of landlords. Universal access to representation levels the playing field to prevent evictions, ensure necessary repairs are made, and stop harassment and self-help by landlords. Right to Counsel reduces the number of evictions, prevents homelessness, and saves government funds by reducing shelter costs and other related expenses.

One recent Brooklyn A case illustrates the importance of a Right to Counsel. Our client, an elderly woman, called 311 after her landlord cut off her heat. In retaliation, the landlord locked her out of her apartment, and then proceeded to call the police and make false allegations against her that led to her arrest.

Brooklyn A worked with her public defender to ensure that the charges against her were dropped, so that they would not prevent her from being restored to her home. We then sued the landlord for illegally locking her out and won after taking the case to trial. Our client was able to change the locks and return to her home.

Soon after, the landlord tried to change the locks on her again while she was out shopping on a Saturday, but our attorney was able to speak with the police officers who responded, explain the court order and restore our client back into her home.

This is a critical moment for tenants, like the woman I just spoke about. Many low-income New Yorkers have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it hard or impossible to pay rent. The pandemic and the affordable housing crisis have compounded to exacerbate the difficulties faced by low-to moderate income individuals and families throughout New York City.

Stable housing is the cornerstone of stability for all other areas of life, and now more than ever it is essential to the recovery of New York and New Yorkers. Legal services ensure that recovery will go smoothly. As we prepare the upcoming lift of the moratorium on evictions, it is crucial to maintain and expand resources that uplift the rights of tenants and preserve affordable housing. We look forward to partnering with the City to continue the success of the Right to Counsel.

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