NYC Landlords try to Recover Back Rent by Suing Tenants, who face Shortage of Public Defenders

NYC Landlords try to Recover Back Rent by Suing Tenants, who face Shortage of Public Defenders

By Yehudit Garmaise

After New York lifted the pandemic-era eviction moratorium on Jan. 15, and landlords were once again legally allowed to evict tenants who do not pay rent, landlords looked to courts to help them recover rent that went unpaid for almost two years.

A startling 685,000 New York City tenants collectively owe landlords an estimated $3.3 billion, according to the Community Service Society of New York.

To start to recover the rent they are owed, landlords added 13,000 lawsuits, in February and March, to the 200,000 lawsuits that were on hold thorough the pandemic, the state Office of Court Administration reported.

“There’s no appearance that it’s going to slow down,” said Adriene Holder, the attorney in charge of Legal Aid’s civil practice, who worried that the current flood of lawsuits would continue to deluge public defenders’ already overloaded offices.

The city’s Office of Civil Justice was told by three legal firms that they were facing staffing shortages and could not take on new clients who were facing eviction, the NYDailyNews reported.

Some housing court lawyers from the Legal Aid Society and New York Legal Assistance Group said they are juggling as many as 80 cases, each of which require months of preparation.

With few lawyers able to take on new clients who are facing, thousands of New Yorkers facing eviction may have to represent themselves, which rarely goes well.

Julia McNally, a professor of law at New York University, said that housing legislation has become so complex and changes so often that she has to change what she teaches each year.

“Housing law is a very, very complicated, fast-paced area of the law, so it’s not at all conducive for litigants to represent themselves,” said McNally, who said that tenants who represent themselves in court often lose their homes.

Without lawyers, tenants who are sued by landlords might wind up living in the city’s shelter system, McNally warned.

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