Statement on New Hud Proposal to Restrict Access to Immigrants in Public Housing

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, issued the following statement today responding to the new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposal to restrict access to public housing for undocumented immigrants and their families.

“The new HUD proposal is yet another attempt to advance the Trump Administration’s xenophobic agenda. This latest attack on immigrant families is an effort to strip them of the fundamental human right to housing, and it has nothing to do with HUD’s false claim around shortening waiting lists. While CBP is tearing families apart at the border, HUD is looking to do the same in homes through evictions in public housing.

Many of our clients are part of mixed immigration status families – mostly with US citizen children, with the other family members already ineligible for rent subsidies – and this unnecessary and heartless rule could potentially drive thousands of such families to homelessness.

We will continue to fight back against these cruel policies, to ensure our clients and all immigrant New Yorkers have basic protections and the right to housing.”

Statement on Latest Nunez Independent Federal Monitor Report on Abuse in New York City Jails

Mary Lynne Werlwas, Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, released the below statement responding to a report issued today from Steve J. Martin, independent Federal Court-appointed Monitor in Nunez v. City of New York et. al., concerning misuse of force in New York City jails.

The independent Monitor was appointed by the Court after Legal Aid, private firms and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York settled a lawsuit against the City demanding that the Department of Correction meaningfully address the scourge of excessive force that has long been entrenched at Rikers Island and other City jails:

“The Seventh Report from the Nunez monitor should alarm us all. Staff brutality in the New York City Department of Correction is more rampant than ever, despite a historic drop in the number of people incarcerated. The report of the independent Monitor shows why: the City has failed to implement many of the reforms to which it committed nearly four years ago.

The culture of incompetence at root of this dismal progress is vividly illustrated in the Report. Jail leaders take little or no responsibility for managing use of force in their facilities. Sham facility investigations of use of force, which ignore objective evidence and simply exonerate staff, are the norm. Staff and supervisors are rarely disciplined even for gross abuse and profound correctional failures. The hard work of the many officers and civilians who seek to make the jails safer is undermined by the normalization of dysfunction and abuse.

The City must close Rikers Island. But if the Department does not implement the reforms needed to professionalize its operations now, it will not see better results and safer jails.”

Statement on New OCA Rule Prohibiting Ice Arrests Without a Judicial Warrant at New York State Courthouses

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Janet Sabel, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, released the following statement today responding to new rules promulgated by the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) that will prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from making arrests without a judicial warrant or court order at courthouses across New York State.

Since President Trump took office, such ICE arrests have skyrocketed by 1,700% and emboldened ICE agents who routinely use state courthouses as hunting grounds to trap immigrants seeking to vindicate their rights in court, leading to a widespread chilling effect that deters immigrants from participating in the judicial system:

“This new rule will truly help protect immigrant New Yorkers from the pervasive and rampant immigration enforcement at courthouses that we have seen on a regular basis since the start of the Trump Administration. In order for our judicial system to function properly, all immigrants - including our clients who have been accused of a crime, parents appearing in family court, and survivors of abuse, among others - must have unimpeded access to courts.

We laud OCA for enforcing the rule that arrests require judicial warrants, and that immigration warrants that do not meet that standard may not be executed within New York’s courts. We also laud all the dedicated advocates who have worked tirelessly to protect our immigrant clients’ right to go to court without fear of immigration authorities. We now call on New York State lawmakers to enact legislation that will effectuate permanent protections for immigrants attending court.”

POLITICO: OCA issues guidance on ICE officers in New York courts

By Emilie Ruscoe
04/17/2019

The Office of Court Administration issued a directive today explaining specific policies that law enforcement officers — and particularly, ICE agents — are subject to in all state courthouses. Officers entering the state's courts need to identify themselves and state their purpose to a uniformed court officer upon entering, the directive says. If they are planning to make an arrest, the judge on the bench should be informed, and a judge or court attorney must review the federal warrant before they are allowed to proceed.

Additionally, court officers need to file an Unusual Occurrence Report any time a law enforcement agent is in a courtroom in an official capacity.

"In order for our judicial system to function properly, all immigrants — including our clients who have been accused of a crime, parents appearing in family court and survivors of abuse, among others — must have unimpeded access to courts," said Janet Sabel, attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society.

Natalia Aristizabal of Make the Road New York said that the directive "will significantly limit" ICE raids in the state's courts.

But they argued that the directive, which could be rescinded, was not a replacement for legislation that would codify protection for immigrants both inside and outside New York courts. "Albany needs to codify the steps OCA took to day and pass the Protect Our Courts Act," said Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), a sponsor of the bill. "As we've learned in recent cases, often individuals are ambushed on their way to and from court by ICE agents, so that is still an area of vulnerability for immigrants who are seeking justice that that we need to address."

The Legal Aid Society Recognizes Council Member Margaret Chin for Tireless Advocacy on Behalf of Older New Yorkers

On Monday April 15, The Legal Aid Society recognized Council Member Margaret Chin for her tireless advocacy on behalf of older New Yorkers.

A champion of the rights of seniors both in her district and across the city, Council Member Chin has been a long time supporter of The Legal Aid Society’s work on behalf the aging population. Council Member Chin has recently highlighted that the senior population in New York City has grown significantly in the last 15 years, is a supporter of increased funding for the Department of the Aging, and sees a need for focused attention on the risks of older women across the five boroughs in the areas of safe and affordable housing.

The Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office for the Aging (BOFTA) is recognized as a national model, BOFTA makes comprehensive legal assistance available to Brooklyn’s senior citizens through a telephone intake system and Housing Court referrals. The Practice provides an interdisciplinary legal-social work framework for securing lasting solutions to the often complex legal scenarios facing low-income seniors.

The evening’s event was held at the GrandLo Café in Council Member Chin’s home district.

NY1: City Council Urged to End NYPD's DNA Collection Program

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By Spectrum Staff News
April 15, 2019

The Legal Aid Society is urging the City Council to stop the NYPD's practice of collecting DNA.

In a letter written to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the Legal Aid Society claims collecting DNA is "racially biased" particularly to people of color.

They cite the recent murder case of jogger Karina Vetrano as an example of the practice - 360 black men from Howard Beach were swabbed for DNA in the case.

Their samples supposedly were then entered into a databank.

DNA evidence was controversial during the Vetrano trial.

Chanel Lewis' lawyers claimed the evidence was tainted.

Lewis was convicted of first and second degree murder and sexual abuse on April 1, and faces up to life in prison.

The Legal Aid Society is asking for the City Council to hold a hearing as a follow up to the letter.

Bronx Justice News: Mold, Rodents, Lead, and Leaks Among Violations In Neglected Bronx Building: Lawsuit

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By Kevin Deutsch
April 17, 2019

The Legal Aid Society is suing a pair of “neglectful” Bronx landlords on behalf of 14 tenants, alleging the men violated a tenant harassment law and seeking a court order forcing them to make desperately needed repairs, court records show.

The suit, filed in Bronx County Housing Court last week against landlords Alexander Hoffman and Isaac Gutman, alleges their five-story, 33-unit, rent-stabilized building at 2108 Ryer Avenue in Fordham Heights is rife with housing violations and unsafe conditions.

Among them: mold, serious leaks, lead paint violations, and rodent infestations.

“Our complaints fall on deaf ears,” said tenant Jashira Caraballo, who says city workers had to repair lead paint violations in her apartment last year after the landlords failed to fix them. “The management does not recognize the severity of the problems in the building because when anything is done, it is just patchwork. Many of us have small children and they should not have to live in horrible conditions. We are human and should be treated as such.”

Legal Aid lawyers say Hoffman, acting on behalf of Ryer Realty Holdings 2108 LLC, obtained a mortgage to purchase the building for $3.9 million from Kearny Bank, promising to maintain the building in good repair.

Instead, the suit alleges, the building has amassed 115 violations, including allowing unsanitary conditions to persist in tenants’ apartments and common areas.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has a separate lawsuit pending against the landlords, accusing them of failing to provide sufficient heat and hot water, Legal Aid says.

City records show HPD has cited them for leaks in the building’s hallway ceilings, and also for leaving the public halls in a dirty, unsanitary state, according to Legal Aid.

“I have lived in the building for 37 years and I have never seen the conditions of the building be this bad. The other night I could not sleep because I could hear rodents running in my apartment,” said tenant Hortensia Diaz. “The landlord never properly seals the holes where rodents come from, so I have to deal with this constant problem.”

The accused landlords could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Legal Aid Sues Neglectful Landlord on Behalf of 14 Tenants Under Anti-tenant Harassment Law

33 UNIT RENT-STABILIZED BUILDING WITH 115 VIOLATIONS IS PERMEATED BY SERIOUS LEAKS, MOLD, AND RODENT INFESTATIONS

The Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit in Bronx County Housing Court on behalf of 14 tenants in a 33 unit rent-stabilized building seeking a Court Order for badly needed repairs, and also seeking a finding by the Court that their landlords’ sustained neglect of needed repairs constitutes harassment.

The landlords for 2108 Ryer Ave. - Alexander Hoffman and Isaac Gutman- together have allowed their building to fall into deep disrepair, leaving their tenants to contend with serious leaks, mold conditions, and rodent infestations.

In December 2016, City records show that Landlord Alexander Hoffman, on behalf of Ryer Realty Holdings 2108 LLC obtained a mortgage for $3.9 million dollars from Kearny Bank in which Hoffman promised to maintain the building in good repair. Notwithstanding his legal obligations to his tenants and to Kearny Bank, Hoffman has failed to invest in his property. Instead, he has allowed his property to amass 115 violations of record, including allowing unsanitary conditions to persist in tenants’ apartments and the common areas.

HPD currently has a pending lawsuit against the 2108 Ryer Ave landlords asserting that that the landlord does not provide sufficient heat and hot water to tenants.

The Legal Aid Society now represents 14 tenants in the 33 unit building in a new lawsuit against the landlords of 2018 Ryer Ave.. Tenants, several of whom have lived at 2108 Ryer Ave for decades, suffer from persistent leaks that are never properly addressed at the source, and mold conditions that are not properly treated and are simply painted over. City records show that HPD has cited the landlord for violations for leaks in the ceilings of the public halls of the building, and also for leaving the public halls in a dirty, unsanitary state.

“New York City has strong anti-harassment laws to protect tenants from neglectful landlords, such as landlords Alexander Hoffman and Isaac Gutman. These laws state that harassment exists where a landlord’s acts or omissions substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet of tenants. Tenants of 2108 Ryer Ave., like all New York City tenants, should not have to suffer due to a landlord who refuses to take the basic, necessary steps to maintain their building in good order, to the detriment of their health and lives,” said Russell Crane, Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society.

Workers employed by HPD had to repair lead paint violations in the apartment of Jashira Caraballo (#D1) last year, after the landlord failed to take action.

“Our complaints fall on deaf ears. The management does not recognize the severity of the problems in the building because when anything is done, it is just patchwork. Many of us have small children and they should not have to live in horrible conditions. We are human and should be treated as such,” said Jashira Caraballo, tenant of apartment D1.

“I have lived in the building for 37 years and I have never seen the conditions of the building be this bad. The other night I could not sleep because I could hear rodents running in my apartment. The landlord never properly seals the holes where rodents come from, so I have to deal with this constant problem,“ said Hortensia Diaz, tenant of apartment C2.

“In the 27 years I have lived here, the management has changed numerous times but with this management, conditions have just been getting worse. We pay our rent and we do not get repairs in return. I am fighting an illness and my grandchildren who live with me have asthma. We should not have to be inhaling the mold and mildew that never gets properly fixed,” said Tanya Johnson, tenant of apartment E3.

The Legal Aid Society’s Housing Group Advocacy Project is supported by the City’s Human Resource Administration (HRA).

The Legal Aid Society Receives Grant from New York State Bar Foundation

Pictured L to R: Janet Sabel, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society; Susan B. Lindenauer, a Director of The New York State Bar Foundation; and Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice

Pictured L to R: Janet Sabel, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society; Susan B. Lindenauer, a Director of The New York State Bar Foundation; and Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice

On Monday, April 15th, Susan B. Lindenauer, chair of the Senior Lawyers Section of the New York State Bar Association, presented The Legal Aid Society with an annual grant in support of the Legal Rights and Economic Empowerment Initiative.

This grant will be used to support a series of trainings focusing on access to benefits for immigrants and their families and changes to rental assistance regulations and upcoming changes to tax law. It is anticipated that the training series will reach over 500 low-income individuals and advocates who seek guidance on these legal areas and who may be impacted by policy changes to ensure they are well-informed and can make well-informed decisions. Trainings will empower New Yorkers and advocates with tools needed to help them address legal obstacles while helping them stabilize and achieve a greater sense of certainty. This work was made possible in part by a grant from the New York State Bar Foundation.

Mrs. Lindenauer previously served as counsel to the president and Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, where she worked for 38 years. She also chairs the fellows of the New York Bar Foundation and serves on the board of the New York State Interest on Lawyer Account Fund (IOLA).

Daily News: Legal Aid to City Council: Stop NYPD controversial DNA collection program

Chanel Lewis appears in court during his retrial in New York, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Curtis Means/AP)

Chanel Lewis appears in court during his retrial in New York, Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Curtis Means/AP)

By Esha Ray and Graham Rayman
April 15, 2019

The Legal Aid Society wants the City Council to stop the NYPD’s controversial practice of collecting DNA, claiming it is “racially biased” and constitutes a “significant infringement on young people’s civil rights," particularly people of color.

In a letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Wednesday, the Legal Aid Society cited the investigation of the murder of jogger Karina Vetrano as an example of the practice. A copy of the letter was seen by the Daily News.

In that case, 360 black men from Howard Beach were swabbed for DNA.

“Once taken, these DNA samples were not simply compared to that single case: they were entered into a vast DNA databank, which contains nearly 70,000 New Yorkers,” the letter said.

“The continued existence of this unregulated DNA databank is not just an existential civil rights threat. Wrongful DNA ‘hits’ as well as the implementation of new technologies mean that innocent people, through their mere presence in the DNA database, may be charged with crimes they did not commit."

The NYPD said it has strict guidelines in place.

“There are standard protocols that govern the collection of DNA,” a spokesman said, "and the NYPD complies with legal requirements surrounding the collection of DNA samples.

DNA evidence became a point of contention during the Vetrano trial, with lawyers for Chanel Lewis saying the evidence was tainted, and that police had used a “race-biased dragnet” to apprehend Lewis.

Lewis’s first trial last year in Vetrano’s Aug. 2, 2016, slaying in Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach ended in a mistrial.

During the second trial, defense lawyers said they received an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a cop, that said police initially suspected “two jacked up white guys from Howard Beach” killed the 30-year-old jogger.

The letter also alleged that stopping Lewis was illegal because there was no specific justification to stop him.

Lewis was convicted of first- and second-degree murder and sexual abuse on April 1, and faces up to life in prison.

The Legal Aid Society is asking for the City Council to hold a hearing on the collection of DNA samples.

“The Council has shown that race-based law enforcement tactics are not tolerated in our City, and that we are entitled to a transparent and accountable police department," the Legal Aid Society said in the letter.

“We hope that you will continue that leadership in conducting an oversight hearing as a first step in ending race-based genetic stop and frisk and protecting New Yorkers’ genetic privacy.”