by Daniel P. Bader
Housing court can be an unfair place for someone without a lawyer. With the number of non-payment evictions on the rise in Northern Manhattan more and more people are finding themselves fighting to keep their apartments. A new program born through the cooperation of the courts, Nos Quedamos/Project Remain and the Community Legal Resource Network is helping to even the odds between tenants and their landlords.
Called Launch Pad for Justice, the program makes available a volunteer graduate from the CUNY Law School to help tenants answer non-payment notices on the day they go to court.
“I think many tenants will be surprised when they go down to answer these eviction notices and will have free legal services,” said Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, founder of NosQuedamos/Project Remain, at a press conference announcing the program.
The program, which started officially in October, takes advantage of graduates fresh out of law school who are waiting to take the bar exam and puts them in touch with tenants who need help. The lawyer only works with the tenant for one day.
Ninety-eight percent of the notices result in settlements, which the graduate, under the supervision of an experienced lawyer, can help arrange on behalf of the tenant.
“We’re grabbing lawyers right out of law school who are not allowed to practice,” said Fern Fisher, deputy chief administrative judge for New York City Courts.
Launch Pad earned special permission to use the graduate students to help the tenants, who would otherwise face their legal battle alone.
“A court system is not neutral … if one side has an attorney and the other does not,” Fisher said. “This is, I think, a great start in serving an underserved population.”
The new service, which has approximately 11 volunteers, will take some of the weight off the overwhelmed lawyers at nonprofits like Nos Quedamos.
“The number of cases I’ve seen is unbelievable,” said Pilar Sanchez, a lawyer for Nos Quedamos and a new supervising attorney for Launch Pad. “We just can’t help everyone that has need.”