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This study examines the impact of the Harlem Community Justice Center, a community-based housing court that attempts to achieve speedier and more durable outcomes in landlord-tenant disputes. However, it may be particularly beneficial to pro se litigants (i.e., those who represent themselves without an attorney). In New York City, most landlords are represented, while the vast majority of tenants are not. In fact, one report notes that only 12% of tenants are able to afford counsel while 98% of landlords are represented.
The primary objective of this study was to examine the experiences of pro se tenants whose cases are heard in Harlem, surveying their perceptions of the fairness, accessibility, timeliness, respectfulness, and comprehensibility of the court process. We conducted a survey of pro se tenants both in Harlem and in New York City’s centralized housing court located in southern Manhattan (hereinafter referred to as “downtown housing court”). Survey results were supplemented with structured court observations, also conducted at both locations.