Evictions Fall as Right to Counsel Grows

The number of New Yorkers evicted fell by 14 percent in 2018, according to figures released by the city Marshal’s Bureau Jan. 31. The bureau reported that 18,152 households were evicted in 2018, almost 3,000 fewer than in 2017.

The greatest drop came in the Bronx, the borough with the most evictions. Residential evictions there decreased by 23 percent, from 7,438 evictions in 2017 to 5,714 in 2018. Other boroughs showed drops, but none as significant: 7 percent in Brooklyn and Queens, 16 percent in Manhattan, and 5 percent in Staten Island. The Bronx, despite being only the fourth most populous borough, has often had the most evictions, as it has historically had the lowest rate of tenants represented by lawyers in Housing Court.

The 2018 decline in evictions continues a trend that began when the city started boosting eviction-prevention legal representation in 2014. In 2017, evictions were about 5 percent lower than in 2016.

Almost 30 percent of tenants facing eviction are now represented by lawyers, according to a report released in November by the city Office of Civil Justice. The city reports providing full legal representation to 26,000 such households in fiscal year 2018 (July 2017 through June 2018), with a total of 33,000 getting some type of legal help. In 2013, the last year of the Bloomberg administration, only about 3,500 households got assisted with legal help.

The city’s “right to counsel” law, enacted in the summer of 2017 after a years-long campaign by the tenant movement, mandates that the city pay for lawyers for people facing eviction if their income is less than twice the federal poverty level, or less than about $50,000 a year for a family of four. Surveys done in the city’s Housing Courts have shown that most people facing eviction have incomes low enough to qualify. The law now covers tenants who live in four ZIP codes in each borough, and will be expanded until the whole city is covered in 2022.

While this drop is great news for tenants, evictions are still a threat in New York City. Many tenants fear angering their landlords or getting behind on the rent, afraid they will be put out of their homes. And the marshal’s office data give an incomplete picture, as many households suffer from “informal” evictions. Some people move out when they get the first eviction notice, or leave when the landlord threatens them. Some tenants are undocumented immigrants who fear coming to court – and also fear reaching out for help, especially now that the Trump administration has threatened so many with deportation.

The struggle for the right to counsel is not yet complete. We at Housing Court Answers hope to see the day when all tenants can get a lawyer in Housing Court – and a lawyer who is working under good conditions for fair pay.

Jenny Laurie is the director of Housing Court Answers and a Met Council board member.