Half the Battle is Just Showing Up: Non-Answers and Default Judgments in Non-Payment Eviction Cases Across New York State
The goal of this brief is to describe the prevalence of tenant non-answers and default judgments, identify trends over time between 2016 and 2022, and explore variation in these rates in jurisdictions across New York State. We focus on non-payment cases (those filed for non-payment of rent) rather than holdover cases (those filed for any other reason, such as lease violations), as the vast majority of eviction filings in New York State are non-payment cases.
We find that answer rates are fairly stable over time, with pre-pandemic answer rates hovering around 50 percent in New York City and 60 percent among other jurisdictions in New York State. (These shares flip in the pandemic period, with higher answer rates in New York City than in other jurisdictions.) However, these averages conceal considerable variation. Many cities have very low rates of unanswered cases, while another sizable set of cities have high rates of unanswered cases. We also find suggestive evidence that the universal access to counsel (UAC) program in New York City may reduce both non-answer rates and the likelihood that a non-answer results in a default judgment.
One of the primary eviction prevention measures jurisdictions across the country have taken is to expand access to free legal counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. In 2017, New York City became the first jurisdiction to enact “Universal Access to Counsel” (UAC), guaranteeing free legal representation to all low-income tenants facing eviction in the City’s housing courts. Research, however, has yet to rigorously evaluate claims either defending and criticizing UAC. This paper aims to address this gap by examining the effectiveness of legal representation in preventing evictions in the private rental market.