What’s Gone Right – and Wrong – with Right to Counsel?

Affordable housing in New York City hinges on a patchwork of policies created amid the often-cutthroat economics of local real estate. The tensions of the system play out daily in the city’s housing courts, where some 230,000 petitions for eviction were filed across the five boroughs in 2017, according to court data. In these disputes, tenants who don’t fully understand their rights and have no representation often face experienced landlord attorneys who pressure them to settle quickly, often to the detriment of the tenants.

Map by Aaron Brezel and Willem Dehaes

Sources: Eviction order data reported by New York City Marshals. Population and median household income data from U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder.

Read the full source code for this map here.


In August 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed historic legislation aimed at rebalancing these power dynamics. The law, known as Right to Counsel, guarantees free legal representation to low-income tenants facing evictions. The initial rollout provides lawyers to qualified tenants in select zip codes in each borough and is expected to be fully implemented by 2022. More than any other law, city officials have trumpeted Right to Counsel for its promotion of housing equity. New York was the first American city to make this commitment.

Now, fourteen months after its passage – and with talks of expansion – a Right to Counsel progress report seemed appropriate.

Welcome to the Right to Counsel Series. We’re looking at the law’s rollout to discover how well its intentions are playing out in reality. You’ll find stories from across the affordable housing ecosystem, exploring topics such as the inadequate infrastructure of housing court, the impact of an influx of young tenant lawyers and the effort to inform tenants of their new rights. We capture the chaos in Brooklyn’s housing court, we speak with smaller landlords who feel overlooked by the pro-tenant legislation and we hear from an entrepreneurial eviction specialist. Finally, we interviewed City Council Member Mark Levine, the Manhattan politician who co-sponsored the original Right to Counsel bill.

With through lines both big and small, these stories illuminate Right to Counsel’s impact across the city and touch on housing issues that affect millions of New Yorkers.

Stories in this series:

Educating Tenants on Their Right to Counsel

Young Lawyers Renovate Housing Court

Right to Counsel Rollout Leaves Some Tenants Behind

On the Verge of Eviction: Scenes from Brooklyn’s Housing Court

In the Bronx, the City’s Busiest Housing Court Struggles to Serve Tenants and Landlords

Quick Evic: A Landlord’s Counterpart to Right to Counsel

As Tenant Service Expand, Small Landlords in the Bronx Feel Forgotten 

Interview with Right to Counsel co-sponsor Mark Levine