Tenants' Rights Project
Columbia University School of Law

Project Overview

This page will give you an overview of what TRP volunteers do while working on a case. Before you get a project, you will attend our training--where you learn more about the process, receive a manual, and meet the TRP Board and project attorneys. Once you have an assignment, you'll have to spearhead the case. Within 24 hours, you should contact the client via telephone and set up a site inspection appointment. You'll conduct the site inspection, perhaps with the help of a Board Member and/or attorney. After documenting the issues at the site inspection, you'll prepare documents to be filed in court. Once completed, you will then be present at the client meeting. You'll review the documents with the client before he or she signs. The next (and hopefully last) step is the court date. You'll go to court, with the client and a project attorney, to represent the client. A lot can happen from that point on--a settlement, a default judgment, or more court proceedings--but it will hopefully result in the resolution of the client's concerns.

Site Inspection

The site inspection is the initial chance you have to meet the client and observe the conditions in their apartment. Within 24 hours of receiving a case, you must contact the client to set up a site inspection. Before the inspection, you'll research the ownership of the building and past reports of problems by looking through city records. On the day of the site visit, you'll speak to the client, explain your role as a law student assisting an attorney, learn about his or her concerns, and take a look around the apartment. You'll look not just for the things complaints, but also for other issues that the client might have overlooked or ignored. You'll take pictures to use as evidence in court. At the end of the site visit, you'll hopefully have started building a relationship with the client, and have the information you need to prepare the court documents.

Client Meeting

Within 24 hours of the site visit, you'll prepare a series of court documents--including a petition for relief, summons, and affidavit. You'll complete these using boilerplate templates provided by TRP and the information you gathered before and during your site visit. Once these forms are completed (with the help of the TRP Board, if needed), you'll submit them to the project attorney who will review and correct them. Once they're up to standard, you'll contact the client and sett up a meeting at the West Side SRO Law Office. You'll outline the contents of each of the documents to the client, who will then make the final decision whether to sign. If the case goes ahead, you'll also complete a request for a site inspection by the City. Soon after the client meeting, the attorneys will file the papers and get a court date set up.

The Court Date

The court date is the culmination of all of your work. You'll arrive in the "Housing Part" of New York City's courthouse at 9:30am prepared with your evidence. A lot of different things can happen--the other side may not show, leading to a default judgment. The other side may show and be willing to make amends. In that case, you may help the attorneys negotiate a settlement and consent order where the landlord agrees to step up and do what needs to be done. If the landlord is unwilling to admit the problems or unwilling to agree to fix them, another court date will be scheduled for factfidning and a decision. Court is an interesting but hopefully rewarding process.

Want to know more about the TRP Process?

If you'd like more details on the activities TRP volunteers are involved in, you may wish to consult the resources section of this website for the detailed TRP manual. Feel free to contact the Tenants' Rights Project Board who will be happy to provide more information or help you get involved.