Tenants and nonprofits ask courts to slow pace of evictions

Najna Dioubate says getting repairs done in her Bronx home was hard enough, but after two years with no income, she’s facing a new battle just to stay in her apartment.
“I don’t know how I’m going pay… now, I don’t have nothing” Dioubate said.

Despite help from the emergency rental assistance programs or ERAP last year, she still owes nearly $10,000 in back rent. And she hasn’t been able to find a lawyer to help her fight an eviction.

What You Need To Know

  • With the pandemic moratorium lifted, evictions are now moving through the courts
  • But many low-income tenants and their advocates say they’re being deprived of their right to an attorney
  • They say the state court system is processing so many cases that there just aren’t enough lawyers for everyone who needs one

She’s worried that she’ll be forced out of the Grand Concourse apartment building that she’s called home since 1996.
“I need lawyer, because my English is not very good, so I need lawyer,” Dioubate explained.

Jordan Cooper, of the tenant advocacy group CASA New Settlement, said the city’s Right to Counsel law allows tenants facing eviction to get free legal help, but many aren’t being helped.

“Given how much folks went through over the pandemic with job loss, and continuing to experience unemployment, we knew that we were going to need everyone to have representation going into housing court, and the pace of cases being calendared… it’s too much,” said Cooper, who believes that non-profit legal services are being overwhelmed.
“What we need right now is for the courts to slow down, to not calendar any new cases until there is representation available,” Cooper added.
Legal Services NYC and Legal Aid Society have joined advocacy groups to urge the Office of Court Administration, which sets the schedule, to slow down. LSNYC cites figures they say show more than 220,000 eviction cases pending, with an additional 7,000 cases being filed each month. LSNYC announced it would have to limit intake to just 60 cases in Queens for the month of April.  

But OCA says service providers are failing to manage their workloads, and released a statement.

“We have repeatedly maintained that the inability of Right to Counsel providers, such as LSNYC and Legal Aid, to meet their contractual obligations and to be able to manage their operations will not adversely affect the functioning of Housing Court,” the statement said. 
“The providers are contracted through New York City’s Office of Civil Justice, not the court system. We have been in multiple conversations with OCJ about this continuing issue and how they can resolve it,” it added. 
The debate leaves little hope for Dioubate or her neighbor Arrouna Soumahoro, who is also facing eviction, and can’t find an attorney.
“I go different, different place, I never find a lawyer” Soumahoro said. “Sometimes, you call them, and 85 percent, they don’t take the phone… they’re busy.”
He says his rent payments have been returned, leaving him about $7,500 in arrears. He worries about what will happen if he can’t find help to sort it out.
“That’s the trouble for me, because I got three kids… where am I going to bring my family?” Soumahoro asked.
In their statement, LSNYC also said: “What tenants need right now are solutions, not finger pointing from the courts.”

But OCA says legal providers’ woes “will not adversely affect the functioning of Housing Court.” 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story should have said that LSNYC cited a statistic about eviction case intake in Queens.