Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Civil Practice Law Reform Unit

The Law Reform Unit builds upon the needs of individual clients to effect systemic changes through litigation and advocacy that benefit large numbers of clients with similar legal problems. Through class actions and other affirmative litigation, we seek to enforce the rights of many similarly situated persons or to establish new legal rights. The unit’s active affirmative law reform litigation docket includes 27 cases that benefit virtually the entire population of low-income New Yorkers.

This Unit conducts impact litigation and advocates for legislative and regulatory reform on behalf of New Yorkers in need on a host of civil legal issues, including benefits, immigration, health law, homelessness, and employment.

Our Impact

Defending Tenants Displaced Due to Vacate Orders – In October 2022, we sued the NYC Department of Buildings and the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal based on their failure to protect tenants who have been displaced due to fires or other catastrophes. Although rent stabilized landlords may not reconfigure apartments without permission from DHCR, many landlords take advantage of vacate orders to rearrange apartment layouts in hopes of discouraging their tenants from returning. The Department of Buildings, in violation of law, rubber-stamps landlord’s construction plans without verifying that DHCR has approved the new layouts. Our lawsuit seeks reform of this bureaucratic dysfunction and demands stronger protections for vulnerable tenants.

Fighting Discrimination against Section 8 recipients – In 2021, we filed suit against 88 landlords and real estate brokers who illegally refused to rent to holders of Section 8 vouchers and similar rental subsidies.  The case is ongoing.

Defending Rent Regulation – In 2020, we represented tenant groups intervening in five different cases challenging the constitutionality of New York’s longstanding rent stabilization system. If successful, these cases would eliminate affordable housing for over a million families.  Fortunately, all five cases were dismissed at the trial court level, but we now are defending appeals in the Second Circuit, and expect the landlord plaintiffs to seek review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Securing Status For Vulnerable Youth – In February 2018, the federal government began denying applications for young New Yorkers trying to secure their immigration status through the Special Immigration Juvenile Status (SIJS) visa program. SIJS was created to help young immigrants who had been abandoned, neglected, or abused. However, because of this illegal change, applicants between 18-21 were being wrongfully denied the protections they need. After a long battle in the courts, we successfully challenged the administration, stopping the unlawful denial of applicants. Now, thousands of vulnerable immigrants can safely secure their legal status.

Defending NYCHA Residents – In the past two years, NYCHA residents have lived through some of the most brutal winters on record, at times without any heat or hot water. Decades of mismanagement and poor funding has left buildings across the city almost unlivable. We are taking a stand for these tenants. In the past year, we have pushed for rent abatements for NYCHA tenants who were left in the cold. We have created informational materials to help people get help. With nearly 600,000 NYCHA residents across the city, we are making sure that all New Yorkers have a safe place to stay.

Learn more about our casework on The Legal Aid Society litigation docket.