New York City Embraces Civil Gideon

New York City’s Right to Counsel bill, proposed by Councilmember Mark Levine (pictured), passed on Thursday. Photo Credit: MoneyBox online article, 7/21/17

The argument for Civil Gideon process took a major step forward last week when the New York City Council passed legislation in support of legal representation in eviction cases. Sponsored by Manhattan City Council Representative Matt Levine, the measure allows the city to appoint counsel for those facing eviction court.
Though Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to sign the bill, the process will not happen overnight. The plan is to phase the assistance in over a five year period. A recent article in Slate Magazine pointed out that in the 150,000 housing eviction cases in the city, tenants in eviction cases were victorious in 77% of cases when legal counsel was appointed.

Read the Slate story here:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2017/07/21/new_york_city_has_taken_up_the_fight_against_the_eviction_machine_in_a_big.html

D.C. Among Those Talking ‘Civil Gideon’ for Evictions

At some D.C. apartments, where tenants are overwhelmingly poor and recipients of housing vouchers, any violation of the lease — even walking your dog without a collar — becomes grounds for a suit for eviction. But far more common is suing over nonpayment of rent. Shown is Brookland Manor, a low-income housing complex that is undergoing redevelopment. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

A trio of Washington, D.C., council members are making the case for a limited “civil Gideon” provision for District residents facing evictions. In a Washington Post op/ed, the three Democrats admit that their city might one considered already “tenant friendly” but that the legal policy is needed.
“Many tenants are pressured by lawyers representing their landlords to settle their case in the hallways outside of the courtrooms,” they write. “If you don’t understand the legalese, it’s hard to know what’s happening to you and it’s almost impossible to know what your options are. All the while, you just want to avoid becoming homeless.
The offer these stats: Of the 33,000 eviction cases filed annually in the District, fewer than 10 percent of tenants have legal representation during an eviction hearing; more than 90 percent of landlords are represented.
For background, they note a national movement: “… this is a small part of a larger national trend called ‘civil Gideon,’ a nod to the case that established the right to counsel for criminal defendants and is now a growing movement to create a right to counsel in civil cases.
See the piece here: Opinion | Low-income tenants in D.C. may soon get legal help

‘Civil Gideon’ Finding Support From NYC Council

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The New York Times continues to cover the Big Apple’s efforts to provide some level of ‘civil Gideon’ to residents facing housing evictions. The term refers to providing civil representation in some cases, usually immigration and family law issues but also evictions, in the same way public defenders represent criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney.

The NYT reports that “… despite $62 million set aside this fiscal year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, to bolster legal help, more than 70 percent of low-income tenants in New York City still go without lawyers in Housing Court, according to a report published in June by the newly created Office of Civil Justice, part of the city’s Human Resources Administration.

The story backgrounds that “… with landlords almost always represented by lawyers, tenants are overmatched from the start, tenant advocates and city officials say. Across the city last year, there were nearly 22,000 evictions, with the greatest number in the Bronx.”

And, reporting on a meeting in late September, the NYT says that “… the City Council held a hearing on a bill that would make New York City the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee lawyers for any low-income residents facing eviction. Under the measure, tenants who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify. (For a single person, the cutoff would be $23,540; for a family of four, it would be $48,500.) The bill, which has already garnered the support of an overwhelming majority of council members, is part of a broader effort gaining momentum across the country to create a right to counsel for people in high-stake legal cases like evictions and foreclosures.”

You can read the entire NYT piece here: For Tenants Facing Eviction, New York May Guarantee a Lawyer

Info On The ‘Civil Gideon’ Issue

Our recent mention of Civil Gideon – the idea that citizens should have a right to an attorney in some civil cases just like they do in criminal cases – brought some requests for more info. We would refer to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (link below) and note the milestone New York Times op-ed by Matthew Desmond, an author and assistant professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard.

Desmond wrote in 2012 about the problem of housing evictions: “… in many housing courts around the country, 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys and 90 percent of tenants are not. This imbalance of power is as unfair as the solution is clear. When tenants have lawyers, their chances of keeping their homes increase dramatically. Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court is a cost-effective social policy that would prevent homelessness and uphold our ideals of fundamental fairness.”

Desmond acknowledged that his research indicated we have many fair, honest and hardworking landlords but also noted that many people keep their homes when they have lawyers. Research newest trends, like Ohio’s move to provide lawyers in eviction cases, here: Civil Right to Counsel.