Pro bono lawyers for Housing Court? It’s a fine idea

I guess this New York Times article, Push to Provide Lawyers in New York City Housing Court Gains Momentum – , is Sidebar’s final post about New York City’s Housing Court,

In a longer, detailed series of pieces here, I related my own experience as a plaintiff in Housing Court, and advised plaintiffs in similar situations how to proceed by themselves successfully.

But my position was different from the situations faced by people whom the “push,” as the Times calls it, would help. Because they are, for the most part, people who have been summoned to Housing Court by landlords who wish to evict them. Although the landlords are usually represented by lawyers, the people facing eviction are not.

One retired judge comments:

Emily Jane Goodman, a retired justice of the New York State Supreme Court, said Housing Court was her “worst” experience on the bench.

“Housing Court is the most unbalanced, unfair and unjust court in our system, and the biggest problem is lack of legal representation,” Ms. Goodman said.

“Tenants do not know their rights, are frightened, intimidated, enter agreements they do not understand and cannot possibly fulfill,” she said. “Typically, they may consent to a judgment of eviction and agree to pay a sum of money they have no ability to raise.”

So I cheer on this effort to support low-income defendants with legal help so they don’t have to face such anxiety-ridden situations alone and without requisite knowledge.

The article takes an interesting slant, too, by offering estimates comparing the (higher) cost to the City of evictions versus the (lower) cost of offering free legal services that would keep people in their apartments.

The Times article, though, did leave out the supportive role of the lawyers who work in Housing Court, on behalf of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Although they don’t represent defendants or plaintiffs − they represent NYC’s buildings − I found them remarkably patient, informative, sympathetic and thoroughly knowledgeable with everyone who appeared in court.

Although these DHPD lawyers can’t, given their position, be pro bono lawyers for indigent people facing eviction, I do think they deserve a mention and praise for the advice and support they are able to offer.


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