Housing Law Externship - The Legal Aid Society

LW.12648 / LW.12649
Professor Julia McNally
Professor Sateesh Nori
Open to 2L and 3L students; LL.M.s if space is available*
Maximum of 10 students
Fall and Spring semesters
5 credits**
No prerequisites or co-requisites.


A significant challenge for low-income New Yorkers is to find and retain safe and decent housing. New York City has an extreme income gap, a supremely powerful real estate industry, and an increasing shortage of affordable housing- all of which disproportionately burden the poor. Fortunately, New York City also has many rules and regulations to protect tenants’ due process rights. This duality presents law students with a unique environment in which to develop their lawyering skills while having a real impact on the lives of disenfranchised New Yorkers.

Students will have the opportunity to interview clients, research theories in an ever-evolving field, and strategize around the complex needs of families in crisis. Students will also be immersed in litigation skills such as preparing motions and affidavits, arguing motions before judges, preparing witnesses and evidence for trial, and possibly participating in trials and hearings. Students will also develop negotiation skills and gain the experience of working on legal teams.


The goals of the Housing Law Externship are to introduce law students to the complexity and rewards of working on behalf of low-income tenants in New York City and to develop their litigation and client skills in that uniquely-challenging context. Students will be exposed to the three types of housing cases: holdovers, nonpayments, and housing part actions (hps). During the course of each semester, students will have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of low-income New Yorkers to stabilize their homes and their families.


The experiential learning will be supplemented by the Housing Law Seminar in which students will learn Housing Court procedure, the substantive laws pertaining to the various types of housing in New York City, ethical rules in working with low-income clients, and the ways that historic patterns of inequality based on race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other factors, combine with economic inequality to compound the impact of impending eviction on our clients. Students will have the opportunity to reflect on the experience of representing low-income families and develop strategies to address litigation challenges and to work across differences.

The seminar will also focus on developing lawyering skills through in-class exercises, drafting pleadings and discovery papers, negotiating settlement terms, and drafting other legal documents. Students will have the opportunity to discuss professional and career development with the various guest speakers. 

The seminar will meet for two hours each week, in the evening, and will be graded credit/no credit based on class participation, completion of in-class exercises, and submission of writing assignments and self-evaluation. Participation will be limited to 12 students to encourage active discussion and dialogue.

Experiential Learning/Fieldwork

Students in the Housing Law Externship will assist in the representation of Legal Aid Society clients in Queens. Students will participate in the intake process in our courthouse offices, gather evidence, prepare affidavits and write motions, prepare for and conduct oral arguments on motions, and join in trial preparation. Students will primarily work inside housing court. Students will be supervised by the professors of this course and will focus on eviction-prevention cases.

Nonpayment Proceedings

Most cases filed in housing court against tenants are nonpayment proceedings.  For many low-income tenants in New York City, it is common to pay more than 50% of their income towards their monthly rent. This severe rent burden, aggravated by short-term and low-wage employment, health issues, consumer debt, and other problems put many low-income tenants on the brink of eviction due to nonpayment of rent.

Students will learn the fundamentals of nonpayment proceedings. We will study the prima facie elements of a nonpayment case as well as common defenses, such as the warranty of habitability. Also, in the context of learning about New York’s system of rent regulation, students will study the rent-setting rules and the rules for challenging rents. In addition, students will learn about the practical ways to resolve nonpayment proceedings through public assistance grants, rent supplements, and advocacy to charities.

Holdover Proceedings

Holdover proceedings seek eviction for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Especially within the context of New York’s system of rent regulation, holdovers represent a permanent threat to affordable housing. Many tenants who face holdovers have been in their apartments for decades. Holdover proceedings present landlords with a method of removing a long-term tenant from their home and to permanently remove a rent-regulated apartment from the stock of affordable housing.

Students will study the various forms of holdovers such as those arising from expiration of lease, alleged tenant misconduct, and the landlords’ attempt to remove the apartment from rent regulation. We will study the elements and defenses specific to each type of case, as well as the use of pre-trial discovery as a strategy in litigating complex holdovers.

Housing Part (HP) Proceedings

Housing Part proceedings provide tenants with the chance to sue their landlords for failing to make repairs. These cases are brought in housing court and are heard by housing court judges. The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development is a statutory party to HP proceedings.

Often, tenants litigate HP actions simultaneously with defending eviction cases, either because they are facing eviction in retaliation for commencing an HP action or because, once in Court, they decide to use the forum to address longstanding repairs and harassment. Under the supervision of clinical professors, students may have the opportunity to help HP litigants navigate the legal and procedural requirements to secure orders to correct and hold the landlord accountable for bad conditions in their apartments.

Application Procedure

Students who wish to apply to the Housing Law Externship should submit via CAMS the standard application, resume, transcript, writing sample (preferably not more than five pages long), and three references (include these on your resume). These materials will be forwarded to The Legal Aid Society. Each applicant should explain why they are interested in this externship in the application. Applicants will be interviewed on campus or at The Legal Aid Society’s Queens office.

Please note there is a separate application form for LL.M.s. The deadline is different than for JDs, and is posted on the Clinic Application Timelines page.

Student Contacts

The following students from this academic year may be contacted to learn more about the clinic:

Tanya Raja
Emily Herzfeld
Melanie Nault

* Consult the Clinics Open to LL.M. Students page to see if the clinic is available to LL.M.s in the current year.

** 5 credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits.