Tenant lawyers, heavily outnumbered in Brooklyn Housing Court by attorneys representing landlords, have launched a bar association all their own to press for better access to judges.
“It’s time to stand up and be counted,” said Karen Bacdayan, a newly elected co-chairman of the Brooklyn Tenant Lawyers Network, which signed up more than 60 members right out of the starting gate.
“There’s an automatic power imbalance in court, because so many landlords have lawyers,” said Bacdayan, who works at Legal Services NYC-Brooklyn Branch. The other co-chairman is Michael Weisberg of South Brooklyn Legal Services.
Just 5% to 10% of tenants in Brooklyn Housing Court have attorneys represent them — compared with 85% of landlords.
Bacdayan said the tenant lawyers’ group was created as a “counterpoint” to a 20-year-old organization, the Kings County Housing Court Bar Association.
All but one of Kings County’s 35 paying members are landlords’ attorneys, and the additional 100 non-members who attend meetings and functions are predominantly landlords’ attorneys, said its president, Michael Rosenthal.
Still, “we listened to both sides,” Rosenthal said.
The tenant lawyers’ group, which doesn’t charge membership dues, will try to make its voice heard by committees that make recommendations for housing judges’ appointments.
Also, it plans to work with supervising judges to improve conditions at the Housing Court facility on Livingston St.
“In these tough economic times, the stress level on all sides keeps going up and up — it’s a very charged atmosphere,” said Diane Lutwak of the Legal Aid Society Brooklyn Office for the Aging. She and colleague Kimberly Skadan are the tenant lawyer association’s co-secretaries.
“When you’re feeling stressed, it helps to be able to work for positive change for everybody,” Lutwak said.
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