Housing Court Answers annual conference, held over two days in June, included our first in person conference since 2019.
Panel discussion and programing
Panel: Saving The Right to Counsel
Adriene Holder (Moderator), Chief Attorney of the Civil Practice, The Legal Aid Society
Yeraldi Perez, Lead Organizer, CASA (Community Action for Safe Apartments)
Siya Hegde, Policy Counsel, Civil Action Practice, The Bronx Defenders
Raniece Medley, Interim Civil Justice Coordinator, Office of Civil Justice
Hon. Jack Stoller, Citywide Supervising Judge of the NYC Housing Court
On Thursday, June 9th, HCA hosted an in-person conference at John Jay College. The conference started with a panel discussion on Right to Counsel - the current crisis and how to preserve the right into the future. Adriene Holder of The Legal Aid Society moderated the panel. Panelists discussed the post moratorium phase of RTC implementation and factors that led to the current situation where there are too many cases on the Housing Court calendars and not enough attorneys to represent all the tenants facing eviction.
Judge Stoller described the moratorium and the transition period after as “a moratorium not only on evictions but on everything. We went from being able to do nothing to doing everything. It fell off a cliff.” The judge talked about support for Right to Counsel within the court and highlighted the fact that, in addition to the fairness issue, working with pro-se tenants required a lot more time to explain court terms and procedures. He mentioned that a new law requires detailed allocutions of settlements on the record (passed by the state legislature this past spring). In addition, the body of landlord-tenant law has been greatly expanded, according to the judge, because tenants with lawyers challenge behaviors and actions that would not have been contested prior to the huge expansion of the number of tenant attorneys on cases.
Raniece Medley described OCJs plans to implement the RTC despite the current gaps. She said that OCJ will be “showing up in the courthouse where we were not before to support eligibility determinations for legal service to direct folks from ERAP but will also be there with partners from HRA who will be on site to do the one shot deal determinations.” Raniece also discussed the great strides RTC has already made in increasing access to representation for tenants and explained that as her role was relatively new she could not yet discuss lessons learned but is focused on creating connections with tenants in the community and partnership between organizations.
Siya Hedge, explaining how the courts have failed tenants, said that tenants who have filed HP Actions (cases filed by tenants against landlords for failing to make repairs or provide services) are also frequently the same tenants who face evictions yet these cases “keep getting adjourned…until there is a 30 minute slot in a HP repair part.” She complained that while eviction cases were moving forward at great speed, the tenants’ repair cases were waiting months for court dates. “What really is the rationale in saying that HP cases should be deprioritized” compared landlords’ rights to move forward for judgments of possession.
Yeraldi Perez, describing what will happen to tenants whose cases move forward without representation, said that “I think for us it is very simple, folks will be displaced.” Yeraldi explained that while organizations like CASA try to assist tenants and connect them to resources, they too are overwhelmed. She emphasized that the City Council had enacted a Right to Counsel companion law requiring the city funding for organizing to support tenants in high-eviction neighborhoods - funding that still has not been allocated by the city.
Adriene Holder asked why cases could not be adjourned until the backlog of cases filed during the COVID moratorium was cleared. Judge Stoller responded that the law requires cases to be calendared when a landlord files the case.
While there was an agreement on the panel that the transition to the post moratorium period greatly increased the risk of eviction for tenants, the advocacy side agreed that it was the court that had the power to slow the case calendaring until RTC service providers could meet the demand.
Day one of our conference included workshops via zoom focusing on what happens with a rent overcharge complaint at DHCR as well as factors in deciding the appropriate venue to pursue a rent overcharge (DHCR vs. courts). This workshop was followed by a presentation from Housing Court Answers staff who gave detailed information for advocates on how to support unrepresented tenants.
Helping Unrepresented Tenants
Presented by Kayla Popuchet and Alexander Chaparro of Housing Court Answers
Housing Justice Award
Housing Justice Award Presented to Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal
Following the panel discussion, Housing Court Answers presented its annual Housing Justice Award. HCA honored Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal for her work supporting tenants’ rights through the passage of the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act and for her work on the Social Welfare Committee, especially in raising the FHEPS rental supplements (the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement provides subsidies allowing low income families with children avoid eviction). Accepting the award, Rosental described her own experience fighting for succession rights for her grandmother's rent controlled apartment and told the audience that even now, her landlord is attempting to get her out of her apartment. She emphasized the important role succession rights in rent regulation helps maintain affordable housing. Rosenthal also spoke about the harassment and lack of repairs that tenants suffered, and continue to suffer, and she talked about the need for permanent affordable housing as part of her critique of the J-51 tax abatement.