Legal Aid Strongly Behind Bills Reforming Nuisance Laws, Restoring Due Process for Tenants

Proposed legislation overhauling New York City’s public nuisance laws would be a “great first step in addressing and remedying some of the most abused portions” of a law that now routinely leads to the eviction of tenants without notice, The Legal Aid Society said in strong support for the bills.

In November 2 testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Public Safety about the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act, Legal Aid told lawmakers how the City now “routinely abrogates tenants’ due process rights.” Lucy Newman, a Staff Attorney in the Civil Practice’s Law Reform Unit, appeared at the hearing for the Society, which has long been concerned about the issue.

Currently, the Public Nuisance Abatement Law allows the New York City Police Department to obtain court orders for eviction before tenants have a chance to tell their side to a judge and challenge law enforcement claims. Furthermore, evicted tenants, often without lawyers, face city attorneys who pressure them to permanently exclude family members facing low-level drug cases – many being charges, not convictions. And there have even been ex parte “close orders” based on dismissed charges.

As a result, Legal Aid is pressing for passage of the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act, a package of bills that “comprehensively reform” the current laws and enforcement. Among other things, the Act would repeal the one-sided ex parte proceedings, narrow the types of cases brought under the law and shorten deadlines for police to bring an action.

Legal Aid testimony detailed the plight of one 47-year-old disabled, single mother to illustrate the current approach’s faults.

Police had searched Ms. R’s apartment and arrested her twin sons with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The sons pleaded to a non-criminal violation and Ms. R was never arrested or charged with any crime. Though a New York City Housing Authority hearing officer excluded the sons, the officer determined Ms. R could stay in her home. The sons moved out.

Nevertheless, police arrived at Ms. R’s apartment days after the housing hearing with a secretly-issued court order based on ex parte proceedings to seal the apartment. The papers used “boiler plate assertions − at best misleading, at worst, clear falsehoods that were not subject to any contradiction by Ms. R,” Legal Aid said.

Though police offered a settlement based on unconscionable terms, Ms. R obtained Legal Aid representation, which resulted in a settlement without “any of the egregious conditions.”

Legal Aid noted one bill in the Nuisance Abatement Fairness Act would repeal the ex parte proceedings, meaning “what happened to Ms. R would not have happened.” Still, “Ms. R. is not our only client to face this terrible process.” The Act’s proposed changes “will ensure that a person is locked out of her home only in the most egregious and necessary cases and only after having an opportunity to give her side of the story to a judge.”