Public defender groups have lamented that they’ve run out of lawyers to represent low-income tenants.
This is after a long-dreaded wave of eviction cases arrived in New York City (NYC).
After the state’s eviction ban ended on Jan. 15, thousands of landlords’ lawsuits flooded the dockets.
More than 6,000 eviction lawsuits were filed in the city in February and 7,000 in March, according to the state Office of Court Administration.
That’s in addition to more than 200,000 eviction lawsuits filed during the pandemic, most of which were on pause until the eviction moratorium was lifted.
A stunning 685,000 of renters collectively owe an estimated $3.3 billion in back rent, according to the Community Service Society of New York.
The post-pandemic wave comes as three legal firms contracted through the city’s Office of Civil Justice say they’re facing staffing shortages and must halt taking on new low-income clients facing eviction in Housing Court.
That means thousands of New Yorkers facing eviction could be left to represent themselves.
Richard Ashley, 52, said the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The former EMT prevailed in a five-day trial in Queens Housing Court — that took more than four months to complete.
He doubted he would have been “able to cope mentally or physically” if he’d had to represent himself in the eviction case.
“With no lawyer, I don’t understand what’s happening … I’m eternally grateful. I feel for the people who don’t have anyone to represent them,” he said.
Ashley, who has multiple sclerosis and other severe disabilities, faced eviction in September 2020 from a supportive housing development in Queens, Institute for Community Living, where he lived for more than seven years. He won the case last month — and credited his Legal Aid Society lawyer.
“I actually lived a horror story,” Ashley said.
“If it wasn’t for [my lawyer] and her coworkers, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
A message left with Institute for Community Living was not returned.
On Tuesday, the Legal Aid Society and New York Legal Assistance Group said new tenants facing eviction won’t be as lucky as Ashley.
The public defenders said they can’t take on a single new eviction case in Queens for all of April due to their caseloads. Housing court lawyers are juggling as many as 80 cases.
A third agency, Legal Services NYC, said it could take no more than 60 cases this month.
In March, it declined more than 475 cases in the Bronx, OCA said, where eviction rates are higher than anywhere in the state. Judges sent those cases into settlement negotiations.