Newark Mayor Wants Free Legal Aid For Tenants Facing Eviction

NEWARK, NJ — More than 78 percent of Newark residents are renters. And when there are 40,000 eviction cases filed in Essex County Landlord-Tenant court every year, half of which involve low-and moderate-income Newarkers, it adds up to an unfair fight for the city’s residents, according to Mayor Ras Baraka.

One idea that might help even the playing field? Free legal assistance.

Earlier this week, Baraka announced the introduction of a proposed municipal ordinance that would provide Newark’s low-income residents with access to free legal representation in landlord-tenant disputes.

Here’s how the law would work if passed by the City Council, the mayor said:

"The municipal ordinance will provide counsel for low-income tenants to ensure that basic guarantees of due process and essential fairness are met. That will be done by creating partnerships and collaborations with the non-profit and pro-bono legal community for a comprehensive program, which will offer legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction in Essex County Landlord Tenant Court, who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line."

The program will go into effect on Sept. 1 of 2018 for residents "at most severe risk of eviction" and be expanded to larger eligible populations over the next five years. Those identified most "at risk" include senior citizens, individuals with disabilities and people with undocumented immigration status, Baraka said.

It would eventually cost the city between $750,000 and $1 million, Pix 11 New York reported.

The proposed law was inspired by similar legislation passed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, which made NYC the first in the nation to ensure that renters facing eviction have access to legal assistance and all low-income tenants facing eviction have legal representation in Housing Court.

So far, the potential law has picked up support from the Ironbound Community Corporation, Rutgers University – Newark, New Community Corporation, McCarter & English, and Essex Newark Legal Services.

"The lack of affordable housing, often-dire living conditions, and frivolous eviction proceedings often lead to homelessness, especially when 99 percent of those tenants are unrepresented in the court actions," the mayor’s office stated in a news release.

"These residents are often working poor and disabled, and are left voiceless in these proceedings. Once they are evicted, they face homelessness and become a strain on neighborhood, private, and municipal homelessness resources."

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