Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner has won passage of state legislation that will enhance access to New York City’s housing for those with limited English language skills.
This measure is particularly important as New York’s housing courts are reopening and many tenants face the possibility of eviction.
Titled the Housing Court Equity Act of 2020, it will level the playing field for tenants who are more comfortable using languages other than English.
“The use of English-only documents in our city’s housing courts has proven to be a barrier for a growing number of New Yorkers and often leads to landlords having the upper hand as tenants have the deck stacked against them,” Assemblywoman Joyner said. “The result has left many tenants facing an uphill battle as they strive to keep their homes and avoid the tragedy of homelessness. Unscrupulous landlords exploit circumstances as tenants struggle to understand documents that are written in a language that they may not fully understand — and the dire consequences impact far too many families throughout our city.”
The bill requires that key housing court documents not just be provided to tenants in English, but in Spanish and the six other most common languages in New York City. Litigants in housing court will also be advised that they have the right to have all court proceedings and any settlements interpreted for them orally so they can understand a settlement before agreeing to it.
“Landlords have been able to exploit the fact that an increasing number of tenants have limited English language skills and that’s truly troubling in a city that’s home to so many immigrants from all over the world,” Joyner said. “A majority of residents in my Bronx community speak Spanish or have families that immigrated from the African continent where English is not commonly spoken. We need to ensure that they’re able to fully exercise their rights in housing court and don’t face undue barriers.”
Joyner added, “My district is not alone with statistics showing that there are 5.5 million New Yorkers who are not-native English speakers and 2.5 million New Yorkers with limited English proficiency,” she continued. “As a result, millions of New Yorkers are finding that the scales of justice are tilted against them each and every day. The Housing Court Equity Act of 2020 levels the playing field and balances the scales of justice for many New Yorkers faced with language barriers.”
The bill has has passed both houses of the state legislature and will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signature later this year.