New York State Bar Association Convenes Working Group to Deal With Expected Surge in Landlord-Tenant Disputes due to Coronavirus Pandemic

By Susan DeSantis

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The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has convened a landlord-tenant working group that will help the state’s courts deal with an anticipated surge in landlord-tenant disputes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

With housing courts closed and a statewide moratorium on evictions in effect until Aug. 20, tenants and landlords are seeking alternative ways to settle disputes. It is the working group’s mission to come up with a way to help sick or financially struggling tenants reach agreements with their landlords through innovative options such as alternative dispute resolution. Settling these disputes quickly would also help landlords who need income to keep their buildings safe and in good repair.

NYSBA is working in partnership with the state’s Unified Court System on this effort. At the urging of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the partnership has built a pro bono network that is already busy helping jobless New Yorkers who are denied unemployment benefits appeal their claims. The number of jobless workers has swelled during the pandemic to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

“I am delighted to see the number of lawyers who have stepped forward to help unemployed New Yorkers appeal denied claims,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said. “But it’s also crucial that we keep New Yorkers in their homes when the pandemic subsides. The involvement of pro bono attorneys will help our housing courts when they resume normal operations and assist those who perhaps cannot otherwise afford representation.”

Henry M. Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association, applauded Gov. Cuomo’s decision to prevent evictions during the pandemic. In the meanwhile, Greenberg said that we must plan for the expected surge in landlord-tenant disputes that the courts will experience when the moratorium is lifted, and explore ways, even before then, for such claims to be resolved through alternative dispute resolution processes.

“The governor’s swift action to put evictions on hold kept New Yorkers safe when they needed refuge during shelter-in-place orders,” Greenberg said. “When the moratorium lifts, the courts will be burdened by an unprecedented number of landlord-tenant disputes. Likewise, the demand for legal services by those who cannot afford an attorney will skyrocket. We must therefore plan for that eventuality and recommend steps that can be taken to ensure due process for all concerned.”

Scott Karson, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association, said attorneys who volunteer through the pro bono network can help mitigate landlord-tenant disputes and reach equitable solutions.

“Tenants, like all New Yorkers, are suffering through the biggest economic downturns of their lives,” Karson said. “But landlords will need to receive the rent money so that they can pay property taxes and keep buildings safe and in good repair. Our pro bono attorneys are experienced in forging agreements that benefit everyone involved.”

New York’s former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, of counsel at Latham & Watkins and coordinator of the pro bono network, said the working group will be part of NYSBA’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force. Representatives from the New York City Bar Association are also being appointed to the working group.

“This esteemed group of lawyers has vowed to work quickly and diligently to resolve what will be a vexing problem if immediate action isn’t taken,” Lippman said. “Their goal is to come up with innovative solutions that address the needs of both landlords and tenants, and I am confident that they will be able to do so.”

New York’s existing network of pro bono and public defense attorneys was strained prior to the COVID-19 public health crisis. The state court system and NYSBA are taking this action to ensure that all New Yorkers can exercise their right to legal counsel at a time when the need for legal services will likely be higher than ever before, and fewer people will be able to afford representation.

Alan Levine, senior counsel at Cooley and former chair of the board of the Legal Aid Society of New York, will be the chair of the working group.

The membership of the working group includes:

  • New York County Supreme Court Justice Hon. Anthony Cannataro, who is the citywide administrative judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York
  • Ross Gilmore, partner at Sperber, Denenberg and Kahan and a member of the New York City Bar Association’s Housing Court Committee
  • Beth Goldman, president & attorney-in-charge at New York Legal Assistance Group
  • Seymour W. James, partner at Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco, former attorney-in-chief of the New York City Legal Aid Society and past president of NYSBA
  • Kenneth Kanfer, an attorney at Kanfer & Holtzer
  • Mark Moretti, of counsel, Phillips Lytle
  • Domenick Napoletano, NYSBA treasurer and co-chair of NYSBA’s Emergency Task Force for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners
  • Jason Polevoy, counsel at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, and chair of the New York City Bar Association Real Property Law Committee
  • Phil Rosen, managing partner at Horing, Welikson, Rosen and Digrugilliers
  • Andrew Scherer, co-chair, New York City Bar Association Task Force on the Right to Counsel, policy director of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law and visiting associate professor at New York Law School
  • Sara Wagner, chair of the New York City Bar Association Housing Court Committee and assistant director of the Teamsters Local 237 City Employees Union Legal Services Plan

Lawyers who are interested in joining this cause should go to https://nysba.org/covidvolunteer/to sign up. If you have specific questions about volunteering, please contact NYSBA via e-mail: [email protected].

For more information regarding the partnership: https://nysba.org/ny-state-court-system-joins-with-new-york-state-bar-association-to-launch-pro-bono-network-to-respond-to-pandemic/

In addition, NYSBA has transformed its website and social media accounts into hubs of legal information regarding the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more at: https://nysba.org/coronavirus.

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

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Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]
201-575-5756

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