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In June 2020, the Ithaca Tenants Union partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York and Cornell Law School, with the assistance of an engaged opportunity grant from Cornell’s Office of Engagement Initiatives, to announce the creation of a housing hotline to serve Ithaca tenants with brief legal advice about their rights and options This summer, nearly 100 Ithaca tenants have contacted the hotline and received assistance from Cornell Law students in collaboration with pro bono attorneys. Today, we are proud to announce that Cornell Law School has created a new Tenants Advocacy Practicum to expand and support the work of the housing hotline to provide representation to tenants facing eviction, conditions issues, and homelessness.

While landlords are most often able to afford lawyers and devote time to winning cases, most tenants appear in court pro se, without the benefit of any legal consultation or advice regarding their rights under New York law. A longitudinal study of 124 eviction court appearances in Ithaca City Court in 2018, conducted by Ithaca resident Carl Feuer, revealed only nine tenants appeared in court with legal representation. In this study, a staggering 93% of local tenants were forced to be their own advocates, armed with varying degrees of legal information about their rights. With the creation of the practicum, law students will be better able to advocate for tenants, under the guidance of a licensed attorney, effectively shifting the power dynamic in Ithaca and providing tenants with added protection.

The practicum, taught by Professor William Niebel and consisting of a group of 12 students, both Cornell law students and Cornell undergraduates, will meet weekly to discuss cases that come through the hotline and accept some as full-scope cases. Professor Niebel, in addition to serving as an Adjunct Professor at Cornell Law, is a Staff Attorney at Legal Services of Central New York, with extensive background in landlord-tenant law.

The hotline will continue to operate alongside the practicum, with the goal of serving as many tenants as possible.

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