Eviction rates remain stubbornly high, despite free lawyers for certain tenants
In 2018, more than 18,000 evictions booted New Yorkers from their homes
Low-income tenants facing eviction in 20 different zip codes have access to lawyers thanks to a 2017 law known as the “right to counsel,” but despite the city’s push to hire attorneys for those fighting to stay in their homes, thousands of New Yorkers continue to be booted each year.
In 2018, there were 18,007 residential evictions—that’s down from 21,074 in 2017—but a new digital tool published by the Right To Counsel Coalition and JustFix.nyc on Monday shows there is much work to be done. To raise awareness for the program, the advocacy groups released a map of evictions—charted citywide and within zip codes where city-hired lawyers represent residents—and a list of the landlords who’ve booted the most tenants.
“In order for RTC to remain powerful, tenants have to know about this right,” according to the coalition’s website. “Also, because evictions are terrifying and traumatic, many tenants choose to move out instead of to fight their case. Landlords know this and sue thousands of people betting on tenants’ fear. We shouldn’t let them.”
The interactive map paints a vivid picture of neighborhoods across the five boroughs where tenants are struggling with evictions and the landlords who most often take those tenants to court. Although the program is in the early stages, data suggests that it is making an impact.
In 2018, there were 3,622 evictions within the 20 zip codes covered by the right to counsel law—that’s a 477 eviction reduction from the previous year’s 4,099. But those evictions also fell in neighborhoods outside of right to counsel’s jurisdiction, dropping very slightly from 18,819 in 2017 to 18,008 in 2018. Those decreases also come as tenants have taken more aggressive steps to resist abusive landlords including rent strikes, lawsuits, and even hunger strikes.
Most evictions happen when a tenant falls behind on their rent, but the circumstances that lead to the rent going unpaid can be complex. Landlords sometimes target rent-regulated apartment dwellers with increases by performing renovations that legally allow them to hike the rent. Many low-income tenants are often unable to afford a lawyer and lack the know-how to face off against savvy attorneys in housing court.
The city sought to level the playing field with the passage of the right to counsel bill. Now, some 324,000 renters who live in the 20 zip codes selected by the city, based on high eviction rates and a concentration of rent-regulated units, have access to city-hired lawyers. The city is phasing in the program with a gradual expansion of zip codes. It is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2022.