NEWARK, NJ - A Downtown Newark law firm has stepped up to provide free legal services to low-income tenants in the city who are facing eviction.

McCarter & English will dedicate a fellowship position at the law firm to take on this huge task in the city. Overall, 40,000 evictions in Newark were sought by landlords in 2016, according to a study from the Rutgers Center on Law, Inequality & Metropolitan Equity.

“Landlords file tens of thousands of eviction proceedings against tenants in Newark and surrounding communities every year,” said the firm’s pro bono director, Michelle Movahed, in a statement. “Only a tiny fraction of those tenants have legal representation, and we intend to change that.”

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Over 20,000 households in Newark are considered "extremely rent burdened" and paying more than 50 percent of their income towards rent, according to the 2017 Rutgers study. Last year, the median rent advertised on classified websites was almost $1,400, which was a jump from 2015, the study found.

The city in May reportedly announced it was looking to provide a free lawyer for city residents who faced eviction. McCarter’s executive committee approved the creation of this fellowship program.

The firm plans to start the pro bono fellowship in the fall, once they have filled the position, and yesterday announced the program at its offices on Mulberry Street with Mayor Ras Baraka. The program will work with community service organizations, the mayor’s office and universities.

“We are very grateful that the firm is teaming with us to protect the rights of some of Newark’s most at-risk residents, tenants waging unequal battles against landlords unjustly seeking evictions,” Baraka said in a statement. “These residents desperately need the seasoned talented and compassionate representation that McCarter & English will provide.”

Robert Mintz, a managing partner of the firm’s Newark office, said that Baraka approached the firm and asked for its services.

“We were looking for an issue where we could make a real difference in the lives of families in the city,” Mintz said in a statement. “The mayor asked if the firm would be willing to take on this issue and we jumped at the opportunity. While we are certainly not anti-landlord – we represent a number of commercial landlords – we do want to support Newark and its residents.”

The law firm is looking for candidates with four years of experience, including two years experience litigating cases in housing court. The ideal candidate would be fluent in Spanish or other languages commonly spoken in Newark.

“We will start out concentrating on the unmet legal needs of tenants, but we’re going to be flexible,” Movahed, the firm’s pro bono director added. “If it becomes clear in the future that the city’s residents need our support in another area, the fellowship program will adapt accordingly,” said Michelle Movahed, the firm’s pro bono director.”

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