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NYCLA ISSUES HOUSING COURT REPORT:
EXPANDED ACCESS TO JUSTICE IS TOP PRIORITY
TASK FORCE ESTABLISHED TO DEVELOP ACTION PLAN
NEW YORK – DECEMBER 20, 2005 – The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) issued a report based on findings from its October 2004 Housing Court conference and established a Task Force that will review the report’s recommendations and develop a plan of action to increase the Housing Court’s effectiveness in administering justice for the people of New York City.
A right to counsel was the central theme of the conference, titled “The New York City Housing Court in the 21st Century: Can It Better Address the Problems Before It?” and the report’s recommendations reflect this theme. Given the fact that nearly 90 percent of tenants are not represented by counsel while more than 90 percent of landlords are so represented, there is a clear correlation between the lack of representation and eviction and an equally strong correlation between tenants’ eviction and homelessness.
Appointed by Norman L. Reimer, NYCLA President, the Task Force is co-chaired by Hon. Marcy S. Friedman, Justice, New York State Supreme Court, and Professor Paula Galowitz, Clinical Professor of Law, New York University School of Law. “This Task Force was created to turn ideas into action,” Norman L. Reimer said. “NYCLA will place its full resources behind this project. What is at stake here is access to justice, a core concern of this bar association since its founding.”
The report contains summaries of four conference papers commissioned for the conference and reports/recommendations of the conference’s six Working Groups. The topics covered were:
Pre-adjudication steps in the Housing Court
The adjudicative process and the role of the Court
Right to counsel
Litigants of diminished capacity
Preserving the housing stock: are there new ways to approach this and measure results?
Social services and volunteer programs in the Court
Working Groups’ Recommendations
Among the recommendations made by the six Working Groups were:
A right to counsel in Housing Court should be established for parties unable to afford counsel as a means to reduce homelessness in New York City and, particularly, to protect the elderly and mentally impaired.
A right to counsel in Housing Court must be recognized for individuals in danger of losing their homes due to a legal or administrative proceeding. Counsel shall be appointed based on clear guidelines for those who are unable to afford counsel. Furthermore, in order for this right to be realized, government must provide appropriate funding.
Information should be presented in a variety of formats (e.g., on paper, in person, by video or by website) to ensure that Housing Court litigants have access to data in the most comprehensive, timely fashion. During litigation, for example, information about trial procedures, the process of negotiations and settlements, and how to get grants (to pay for rent arrears) should be more widely available.
Judges and court attorneys should receive appropriate levels of training in the skills necessary to address the problems of the pro se litigant.
Efforts should be directed towards identifying tenants who are eligible for financial assistance from government, private charities or other sources but do not take advantage of such assistance and directing them to governmental and non-governmental social service agencies.
The Housing Court Conference, which marked the 30th anniversary of the Housing Court, was sponsored by the NYCLA Justice Center and co-sponsored by Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School, Columbia University Law School and Fordham Law School’s Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
The Report can be downloaded from NYCLA’s website. Log on to www.nycla.org and click on News & Publications and then on Board Reports & Resolutions.
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