City Council Passes Three Bills for Tenants Rights to Counsel and Privacy

Image credit: New York City Council.

Free representation in housing court for low income tenants will now be available citywide. On April 29, 2021, the City Council passed three bills advancing tenants rights. Two of the bills focus on expanding the right to counsel in housing court for tenants citywide and an outreach program to notify tenants of their rights. The third bill focuses on tenant data privacy. All three bills were sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine. 

Int. 1760-A requires the owners of multiple dwellings with smart access systems to provide their tenants with a data retention and privacy policy. An increasing number of buildings rely on electronic or keyless entry systems, including systems with biometric identifiers, key fobs or other electronic means of access, which raised concerns about the protection of tenant data. 

The bill also creates restrictions on the collection and use of data from those smart access systems including required consent from tenants and guests to collect that information, restricting the sharing of collected information with third parties, and requiring the removal or destruction of collected data within a given period. Data collection regarding tenants’ usage of utilities and internet services is also restricted with the exception of collection for the purpose of sharing with a third party to improve energy efficiency. The bill also creates a private right of action for the unlawful sale of this collected data. 

This bill will take effect 60 days after it becomes law, but landlords with existing smart access systems would not be liable for violations until January 1, 2023 to allow for time to upgrade or update the existing system to make it compliant with the law.

Int. 1529-A establishes an outreach campaign to notify tenants about their housing court rights. The bill requires the Office of Civil Justice coordinator to work with community groups to educate tenants about their rights in housing court. Advocates and legal service providers have pushed for tenant outreach as many tenants are unaware of their rights and the resources available to them, so they never get to housing court. Int. 1529-A goes into effect 180 days after it becomes law.

Int. 2050-A expands the existing right to counsel for low-income tenants in housing court. 

In 2017, Local Law 136, the Universal Access to Legal Services or “Right to Counsel” law was enacted. The law required the Office of Civil Justice to provide free legal representation to low income tenants making no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level in eviction proceedings in housing court or tenancy termination from NYCHA. When the law was enacted, it was only in a limited number of zip codes, which eventually expanded to 25 zip codes across the city. Int. 2050-A expands the right to counsel to all zip codes citywide and takes effect immediately. 

Part of the motivation in expanding Local Law 136 stems from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. According to a National Council of State Housing Agencies report, between 800,000 to 1.2 million New Yorkers are behind on monthly rent. While an eviction moratorium had been in place, many tenants may be in danger of eviction once the moratorium expires for good.

Council Member Levine stated, ““We are facing the very real potential of the worst avalanche of evictions in the city’s history. Expanding Right to Counsel to all zip codes immediately is critical to protecting vulnerable New Yorkers still dealing with the devastating aftermath of the pandemic.  We are telling all tenants today loud and clear – you will not have to face the terrible prospect of losing your home on your own. We know that representation works – and we know that in the majority of cases having a lawyer means better outcomes for tenants. The stakes l couldn’t be higher – we need to make sure that New Yorkers facing eviction are staying in their homes, off the streets, and out of the shelter system and we need to give more people access to this program NOW.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)


One thought on “City Council Passes Three Bills for Tenants Rights to Counsel and Privacy

  1. What a shame how the govt is supporting many of these cheaters and fraud occupiers. I’m small homeowner of 2 family home and my home is occupied by some people and I’m unable to take them out while they give me middle finger saying “you cant do shit”. The original tenant who brought them in had left long ago owing almost 8 months of rent and in total I’ve lost 18 months of rental income. My pre pandemic notice and after pandemic petition still lingering in the courts while the govt occupy my property and housed these trash fraudsters against my will without any justice for me. My life is miserable right now.

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