WXXI AM News

tenants' rights

CITY file photo

Every Rochester resident facing eviction proceedings in a city court will now have access to free legal representation under a program that launched Tuesday.

The so-called “right to counsel” program also includes an eviction hotline that city residents can call for assistance. The initiatives were part of a larger eviction prevention and homeless services package passed last week by City Council. Under the legislation, $460,000 of federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds were allocated for the right to counsel pilot program, which will run through June 30, 2021.

The New York State Legislature returns to the Capitol next week, and tenants’ rights advocates are pushing for the passage of bills to cancel rent payments and offer other protections for the duration of the coronavirus emergency. They say without some relief, a massive housing and potential homelessness crisis looms.

Tenants’ rights groups protested Wednesday in the Bronx and via Zoom over what they fear is a looming housing crisis for tens of thousands of out-of-work New Yorkers struggling to pay rent. 

Rochester City Court has a new housing section. Now, tenants can bring small claims actions against landlords to be heard by a judge.

We talk about how the system will work, and we hear from a local tenant and a local landlord who share their perspectives and concerns. In studio:

Jacob Walsh/CITY Newspaper

By the time Mary Brown moved out of her apartment at 447 Thurston Road last year, she and the other residents had — for too long — dealt with black mold, infestations, uncollected garbage, sewage backups, unsecured doors, squirrels eating through the walls, and "big" rats.

"We were living in some very poor situations," said Brown, who is now living in a different apartment complex.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers made upstate communities eligible to opt in to tenant protections that have been in place downstate — mostly New York City and its suburbs — since 1974.

New York State’s new tenant protection laws affect evictions, security deposits, and a lot more. Advocates say the law, which went into effect this summer, will protect vulnerable tenants. But a growing group of landlords say the law has an unintended consequence: it’s making it harder for people in poverty to find any housing at all.

Our guests debate the impact of the new laws: In studio:

More than 88,000 homeless families are living in shelters across New York State. That’s according to a new housing activism campaign called Housing Justice for All. The coalition of state advocacy groups is dedicated to helping low-income tenants and homeless New Yorkers secure affordable, safe, and warm housing. The movement was launched in early January, coming just days before tenants in two Rochester apartment complexes exposed inadequate heating and additional problems in their buildings.

So what can tenants do to protect their rights? Some groups push the idea of a local Housing Court. Others are relying on advocacy at the state level. Our guests share the latest regarding tenants’ rights. In studio:

  • Ryan Acuff, member of the City-Wide Tenant Union and Take Back the Land
  • Kawanais Smith, tenant union president at Southview Towers
  • Jesus Miranda, resident of 960 Dewey Avenue