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"Right to Counsel" Legislation Introduced In Albany County


The "Right to Counsel" movement for tenants facing eviction is being taken up by the Albany County Legislature.

Municipalities with right to counsel laws in place include New York City, where it was passed in 2017. Statewide legislation has also been signed in Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland.

Albany County Legislator Sam Fein, representing the 6th district, has introduced Local Law L, which would create a new right to counsel for renters during any eviction case. The Democrat notes legal representation would be available at taxpayer expense for those who meet income eligibility requirements.

“In 2018, in Albany City Court, landlord tenant cases, only 2.4% of defendants had counsel, but 85.7% of plaintiffs had counsel. So the eviction moratorium is going to end mid January, we need a lasting solution that's really fair to both sides. What Right to Counsel will do, it will ensure that tenants have representation in housing, in human rights. They deserve to be represented when they're at risk of losing their housing. This will also ensure that tenants are better connected potentially to government assistance programs. It'll increase communication in courts and better outcomes for both sides.”

District 29 legislator Mark Grimm argues Local Law L does not address and would not apply to struggling landlords deprived of rental income during the pandemic.

“Landlords, as we know, are struggling because they have not been able to collect rent, in many cases, because of the government imposed eviction moratorium. So think about it, the law would allow the government to take a side in civil disputes between two private parties. Yes, that has a constitutional question attached to that. But it's also an unfair blow to landlords, who everyone acknowledges have been hit pretty hard during these times. “

The Republican says he has spoken with a number of landlords who have decided they are not going to rent out properties anymore.

“If we have fewer landlords, we're going to have fewer rental housing. So for people who are looking for affordable housing, this is going to make it more difficult for them.”

Fein claims his legislation would stabilize communities by reducing eviction rates, and help ensure fair outcomes in the court system while paying for itself over time by decreasing shelter stays and the use of other social services.

Grimm says Local Law L will get a public airing in October.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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