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TENANTS, ADVOCATES AND FAITH LEADERS RALLY OUTSIDE YONKERS CITY COURT CALLING FOR RIGHT TO COUNSEL

Yonkers Times

March 25, 2023


On March 24, tenants, attorneys, advocates, faith leaders and others in the statewide Right to Counsel and Westchester Right to Counsel coalitions rallied at Yonkers City Court to demand state leadership pass Statewide Right to Counsel (May-S2721/Joyner-A1493) and Winter Eviction Moratorium (Myrie-S1403/Kelles-A4093) legislation. In particular, with some elements of the Statewide Right to Counsel bill in the Assembly budget, the coalitions called on the Governor and the Leadership to not back down from their moral imperative but to pass what New York tenants need and deserve: a fully funded Right to Counsel for all New Yorkers in all types of court cases that could result in displacement.



At the rally, advocates denounced the basic unfairness of the fact that most tenants do not experience due process when facing an eviction. “Over 90% of landlords are represented in court, and less than 10% of tenants are. That’s an incredible imbalance. It makes a mockery of the phase ‘justice,’” said Dennis Hanratty, Director of Mount Vernon United Tenants.


Lack of representation has devastating consequences for New York State tenants: evictions and homelessness. Speakers at the rally shed light on the many traumas associated with eviction. “We must be mindful of the impact that evictions have on children and families. When a family is being evicted, their children are being removed from their school system, they’re being removed from their communities–communities they know, they love, and that they’re growing in,” said Angel Gray, Program and Policy Director at the Westchester Children’s Agenda.




County Legislator Christopher Johnson and Yonkers Councilmember, Majority Leader Corazon Pineda-Isaac spoke as well, with Pineda-Isaac pledging to introduce a resolution in support of Statewide Right to Counsel. Lorraine Lopez, a longtime community activist, spoke of her own recent experience facing eviction. “I didn’t think something like this would happen to me,” Lopez said. Speaking to her relief when she was finally able to connect with an attorney, she said of the attorney “She not only guided me through everything, she made sure that I was OK.”


After the rally and press conference, coalition members led a tour of Yonkers City Court, highlighting the many barriers that pro se tenants face as they navigate court and face eviction without the support of an attorney. They reflected on the difficulty of merely understanding notice papers, let alone filing an Order to Show Cause, which pro se tenants need to do if, for example, they missed their court date, defaulted, and want to request another hearing so they can fight their case (a process which requires multiple notarized affidavits and the tenant serving both their landlord and the marshal).



After a brief courtroom observation, the group ended by discussing what they’d seen. In just 15-20 minutes, they witnessed two default evictions–a few second process that will result in a life-changing event for the tenant. They also noted the rapidity of the cases (all lasted seconds to a couple minutes) and that only two tenants were represented. The group affirmed the importance of a Right to Counsel and the urgency of its passage at the state level, noticing that only a single tenant in the cases they observed, who had a lawyer, raised repairs issues and asked for a rent abatement.


This action is part of a week of actions across the state to pass legislation that will keep tenants in their homes and in New York.



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