Seton Hall Law Professor Paula Franzese, whose research has been used to craft proposed legislation for tenants’ rights, encouraged law students to be compassionate advocates for clients as they embark on their legal careers.
Franzese, an expert in tenants’ rights, spoke to Seton Hall and Rutgers Law School students in the Baker Court Room at the annual Allan Axelrod Lecture on March 30.
“Let us be the ones to put justice where there is injustice,” she said.
Franzese said she studied 40,000 evictions that took place in Essex County during one year and found that only 80 people claimed that their landlord had violated the implied warranty of habitability, which shows that most tenants do not understand their rights or know how to take legal action on their own behalf.
She told the students how lucky they were to be in a position to advocate for others and reassure renters by saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here. I’m your lawyer.”
Franzese also talked about a bill she worked on with state Sen. Richard Codey and Assemblyman John McKeon that would give tenants in New Jersey additional rights, such as having a housing inspector dispatched promptly when a claim is made that a property is uninhabitable. The bill also would prohibit blacklisting tenants who bring action against landlords and to stop requiring tenants to deposit their rents in an account when their housing units aren’t livable.
She talked about her humble beginnings as the daughter of Italian immigrants who lived in small apartment in Brooklyn with inadequate heat and cockroaches. She said her parents could not get the landlord to make needed repairs. Instead, the landlord punished her parents by turning off the heat and hot water and locking them out of their apartment.
Though times have changed, she said similar situations still exist.
“We are still in a place where so many tenants find themselves in substandard housing,” she said.
Franzese talked about advocating for others through her work at Essex-Newark Legal Services and how she helped a mother of three in Newark who had used her rent money to make emergency repairs to her apartment and was served with an eviction notice. However, with legal help, Franzese said the woman was not evicted and her attorneys were able to make a claim that the landlord had breached the implied warranty of habitability, rendering her apartment unlivable.
She urged the law students to be voices for the disenfranchised, to “speak truth to power” by advocating on tenants’ behalf in courtrooms.
Franzese is the Peter W. Rodino Professor of Law and has served as Special Ethics Counsel to Governor Richard J. Codey, Chair of the State Ethics Commission, Vice-Chair of the Election Law Enforcement Commission, Vice-Chair of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Special Committee on Attorney Ethics and Admissions and as ethics advisor to state and local governments, including the City of Newark, under Mayor Cory Booker. She is one of the country’s leading experts on property law as well as government ethics.
The Axelrod Lecture is organized each year by Professor Diana Sclar, the law school’s Allan Axelrod Scholar. Axelrod, the William J. Brennan Jr. Professor of Law Emeritus at Rutgers School of Law–Newark, died at the age of 85. For 59 years, from 1948 to 2007, he taught Contracts, Property, Commercial Law and Bankruptcy, and also Antitrust, Oil and Gas, and Local Government.