November 24, 2020

Almost four years to the day after launching a challenge to New York City’s no-fault eviction law, New Yorker Sung Cho secured justice for himself and thousands of others.

Longtime Liberty & Law readers may recall Sung’s story: He owns a laundromat in Manhattan and, just before Christmas 2013, he found himself targeted by the city’s no-fault eviction machine. Undercover cops had come to his laundromat months before and asked customers and other members of the public if they wanted to buy stolen electronics. Two took the bait. Neither had any connection to Sung’s business.

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) did not accuse Sung or his employees of wrongdoing. Instead, attorneys for the city threatened the laundromat with eviction simply because it happened to be the place where the alleged offenses occurred.

As Sung scrambled to prepare for a Christmas Eve hearing, New York made an offer he couldn’t refuse. It would retract the eviction demand if he would agree to three conditions: waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches, grant police unlimited access to his security camera system, and allow the NYPD to impose future fines and sanctions for alleged criminal offenses without any opportunity for a hearing before a judge. Faced with eviction, Sung accepted the city’s terms.

His experience was far from unique. Through a program dating back to the 1990s, the NYPD often threatened to evict businesses and residents when somebody—even a total stranger—committed a crime at or near their property. Once eviction proceedings were underway, prosecutors would bully the businesses and residents into signing away their rights.

In 2016, Sung partnered with IJ to file a lawsuit challenging these coercive agreements. The case wound through the federal courts for years. In early 2017, the city overhauled its no-fault eviction law to better protect people’s rights. But that amendment did nothing to help the thousands who remained bound by unconstitutional settlements extracted in the past. So we forged ahead with our challenge. In early 2018, the trial court dismissed the case on procedural grounds. Later that year, the court of appeals overturned that decision, allowing the case to proceed.

Those years of perseverance paid off this October when we obtained full relief for Sung and countless other New Yorkers. The city signed a binding order declaring that the NYPD “shall not enforce or seek to enforce” any settlement secured under the old no-fault eviction law. The city also agreed to send notice of the order to the trial courts of the five boroughs, to the NYPD’s Civil Enforcement Unit, and to properties targeted for evictions going back to 2014.

IJ’s long-fought victory in New York vindicates the rights of Sung and thousands of other innocent New Yorkers—and the principle that no one should lose their home or business without being convicted of a crime.

Sam Gedge is an IJ attorney.

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