Arlington, Va.—On Monday, October 5, 2020, Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a settlement order providing systemic relief to thousands of New Yorkers whom the city had targeted for no-fault evictions in years past. For decades, the city used its no-fault eviction program to coerce residents and businesses to enter into settlements waiving their constitutional rights. Under this week’s settlement order, the city will be barred from enforcing those no-fault settlements across the board.
“This week’s settlement order has been a long time coming,” said IJ Attorney Sam Gedge. “For years, New York City used the threat of eviction to break up families, forcing leaseholders to kick out children, spouses and siblings—many of whom were never charged with a crime. Other times, the city would force businesses to consent to warrantless searches and video monitoring. Monday’s settlement order delivers justice to the countless New Yorkers who were stripped of their constitutional rights in these ways.”
Through a program dating back to the 1990s, the New York Police Department 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, New York City’s prosecutors would then bully the businesses and residents into signing away their constitutional rights in order to avoid eviction. Parents would have to agree to bar their children from their homes. Businesses would have to agree to warrantless searches. Others would have to agree to waive judicial oversight of future sanctions imposed by the NYPD.
Laundromat owner Sung Cho learned about these practices the hard way. After undercover police officers came to Sung’s laundromat and offered to sell stolen electronics to his customers, the NYPD threatened to evict him from his business. The city said it would let him stay if he agreed to three demands: waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches, grant police unlimited access to his security camera system, and allow the NYPD to impose sanctions for alleged criminal offenses even without any opportunity for a hearing before a judge. Faced with eviction, he reluctantly settled on the city’s terms.
After Cho—along with co-plaintiffs David Diaz and Jameelah El-Shabazz—teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge settlements like these, the city overhauled its no-fault eviction practices in May 2017. But thousands of New Yorkers remained bound by unconstitutional settlements that the city had extracted in the past. In changing its law, the city left them behind.
Monday’s settlement order grants relief to those thousands of New Yorkers. Going forward, the city has agreed that the NYPD “shall not enforce or seek to enforce the terms of any Stipulation of Settlement” secured in any pre-May 2017 no-fault eviction cases. The city also agreed to send notice of the settlement to the trial courts of the five boroughs, to the NYPD’s Civil Enforcement Unit, and to properties targeted for no-fault evictions going back to January 2014.
“This week’s settlement is a victory not just for me, but for everyone like me,” said Cho. “The city’s no-fault eviction program treated me like a criminal when I did nothing wrong. Many other New Yorkers faced the same treatment, and the settlement ensures that their rights will be respected going forward.”
“This lawsuit has sought to vindicate a simple principle,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Johnson. “The government shouldn’t be using the threat of eviction to force people to waive their constitutional rights. The settlement entered this week secures the rights of thousands of New Yorkers who were targeted by the city’s no-fault eviction program.”
The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that fights for property rights nationwide. In a class action against the City of Philadelphia and its law-enforcement agencies, IJ ended a similar practice by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in coercing property owners to waive constitutional rights. Currently, IJ is also challenging a compulsory-eviction program in Granite City, Illinois. IJ was joined in Sung Cho v. New York City as local counsel by Ana-Claudia Roderick of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.