Position Statement – 2021
S.6678A (May) / A.7570A (Joyner)
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) supports the legislation to provide tenants the right to counsel in eviction proceedings.
There is nothing more fundamental than having a roof over one’s head and a safe place to live. Before someone loses this basic right, the court system must ensure due process of law is afforded. Guaranteeing that a tenant who is facing eviction has access to counsel is essential to ensure access to justice.
S.6678-A /A.7570-A establishes the civil right to counsel in eviction proceedings in New York State; creates the New York State Office of Civil Justice; and requires that covered individuals be given notice of such right to counsel. Currently, there are 12 cities (including New York City) and three states that have a Right to Counsel for tenants in eviction cases.
As recognized in the Act’s legislative history, “there is a fundamental human right to adequate housing accommodations. Safe, secure, and accessible housing is essential to achieving equal access to all other fundamental needs. Without housing, individuals and families too often cannot preserve family integrity, gain employment or other income, or enjoy access to healthcare, proper nutrition, and education.
Right to Counsel addresses power imbalances between tenants and landlords; fights the devastating consequences of eviction; addresses racial, economic, and gender inequities and helps build towards a right to housing over private profit. The overwhelming majority of landlords who seek to evict tenants are represented by legal counsel, while in the areas of New York State where there is no right to counsel most tenants are not represented by counsel.
Data from New York City as well as other jurisdictions across the country where there is a Right to Counsel shows when tenants having counsel outcomes improve. The Act’s legislative history reports, “representation of person who face losing their homes in legal proceedings makes a determinative difference in outcome by preserving homes and ensuring compliance with laws that, among other purposes, protect the right to safe and secure living conditions, prohibit discrimination, regulate rents and provide rental subsidies. Representation of persons who face losing their homes in legal proceedings is essential to the fair functioning of the justice system and protects the rights to due process and equal protection of the law.”
With New York’s eviction moratorium expiring in January 2022, now is the time to ensure that all tenants are afforded due process and their rights are asserted and protected by having access to counsel. For these reasons, WBASNY should support S. 6678A / A.7570A.
WBASNY’s nearly 4,400 members include attorneys, judges, and law students working in all substantive areas of law at the local, state, federal, and international levels. With 20 chapters throughout New York State, WBASNY speaks as one voice to advocate for equal access to justice and gender equality.