Northeast New Jersey Legal Services’s (NNJLS) mission is to ensure equal access to justice for residents of Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties, NJ experiencing poverty. No one should be denied a meaningful opportunity to have their day in court simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.
WHAT WE DO
NNJLS is a private non-profit public interest law firm that provides free legal help in civil (non-criminal) matters to underserved individuals and families experiencing poverty. We also work to increase the public’s knowledge of their rights and responsibilities through community legal education.
NNJLS focuses on four core areas of civil law—housing, consumer, family, and public benefits. These are the areas in which our clients are most likely to develop legal problems which they cannot address themselves. With experienced attorneys on staff, NNJLS works to ensure that clients do not lose their housing due to eviction or foreclosure; that they are not harassed by debt collectors or victimized by unfair business practices; that they and their families have fair custody and support arrangements in the event of separation or divorce; and that they can receive the public benefits and other forms of income support they need to maintain their independence and meet their daily needs.
NNJLS also has specialized programs in place to address the legal needs of veterans; seniors; survivors of domestic violence; survivors of sexual assault; students; immigrants; persons living with HIV or AIDS; individuals formerly incarcerated who now face legal barriers to re-entry; individuals experiencing homelessness; and residents experiencing poverty with federal income tax (IRS) issues.
WHOM WE SERVE
Northeast New Jersey Legal Services provides free legal assistance to residents of Bergen, Hudson, and Passaic Counties experiencing poverty including seniors, persons living with a disability(ies), and persons experiencing homelessness.
Due to limited funding, we cannot serve all those who come to us for help. We do not handle criminal cases, auto accidents or personal injury matters, business disputes, traffic tickets, worker’s compensation, or real estate closing matters. If we cannot provide you with legal assistance, we will try to refer you to local agencies where you may be able to receive the help you need.
If you are a New Jersey resident and need legal assistance but do not live in Bergen, Hudson, or Passaic Counties, click here to contact your local legal services program.
If you live outside New Jersey, please visit the Legal Services Corporation's website to find a legal aid near you.
In response to the increasing demand for legal assistance by people who could not afford private attorneys, many small legal services organizations began to spring up across the United States throughout the early part of the 19th century. This was especially true in urban areas, where large populations of people lived in poverty. Over time, however, it became increasingly apparent that these small networks of mostly pro bono attorneys were insufficient to meet the great need for legal assistance for the disadvantaged.
The origins of Northeast New Jersey Legal Services (NNJLS) go back to the 1960s, a time when concerned attorneys and legislators realized the need to provide funding for legal services organizations and began forming non-profit organizations dedicated solely to providing legal assistance for the impoverished. Bergen County Legal Services, Hudson County Legal Services, and the Passaic County Legal Aid Society had their beginnings in this era. In 2003, these three legal services agencies merged to become Northeast New Jersey Legal Services.
Today, NNJLS is one of the largest providers of free legal assistance in the state, serving a population of great racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity. NNJLS’s staff of experienced attorneys and support personnel provides free legal assistance to residents experiencing poverty from all parts of its service area – from the urban centers of Hackensack, Jersey City, and Paterson to the more “rural” areas of northern Bergen and Passaic Counties. In 2019, over 10,000 people received free legal help from NNJLS.
NNJLS attorneys handle thousands of cases each year. Here are just a few examples of how our work makes a real and meaningful difference in people's lives. Names and other identifying informations has been changed.
When “Janet” came to Northeast New Jersey Legal Services (NNJLS) for assistance, she was a 24 year-old, single mother of two toddlers who was facing imminent homelessness. She had previously lived in a southern town with the father of her children, but he became abusive. When he was arrested on drug charges, Janet saw her opportunity to flee. She headed to New Jersey, where her mother and brother live, to seek safety and support from her family. Janet’s mother agreed to pay for the move to New Jersey. Her brother agreed that Janet and her children could stay with him while she returned to school, and he offered to assist with the care of her children.
When she arrived in New Jersey, however, Janet discovered that her brother’s landlord would not allow him to house her and her children. Janet’s mother rented a room from a friend, and the friend allowed Janet and her children to stay there on a temporary basis. But the room was too small to accommodate two adults and two children for long, and the friend asked Janet to leave.
Faced with no other options, Janet applied for emergency shelter assistance. The regulations for emergency assistance provide that a person’s application can be denied if they had the ability to plan to prevent their own homelessness but failed to do so. Janet’s emergency assistance application was denied on these grounds—that she caused her own homelessness.
Our NNJLS Staff Attorney appealed the decision on Janet’s behalf. The attorney argued that Janet’s homelessness was not her fault. She proved that Janet was forced to leave her home or be subjected to further abuse, and that she did have a plan of action in place when she left. She also showed that Janet’s abuser, who did not live in New Jersey, continued to try to contact her and that despite the distance Janet remained very afraid of him.
The Administrative Law Judge who heard the case issued a decision immediately overturning the denial and granting Janet emergency assistance. The State Social Services agencies then upheld the Judge’s decision. Janet and her children were placed in a shelter and subsequently found an apartment, where they are safe. Janet is free from domestic violence and can now focus on pursuing an education and raising her two young children.
“David” is a veteran and former first responder who suffered injuries in the aftermath of 9/11. He owned a home in Hudson County and for years was current on his mortgage despite his injuries and lack of employment.
David’s problem with his mortgage began when his daughter was arrested and he used his mortgage money to post her bail. Once he fell behind, the bank refused to accept his mortgage payments.
In addition, as a result of his injuries on 9/11, David is seeking compensation from the 9/11 fund. Incredibly, the matter has dragged on for years with no resolution.
David came to NNJLS when a foreclosure was instituted against him. His case was assigned to an NNJLS attorney, who filed an answer to the foreclosure complaint arguing that, because David’s mortgage was insured by the FHA and the bank had failed to comply with FHA regulations, he had a valid defense to the case.
The bank’s motion for summary judgment was denied, and the case was scheduled for trial nearly a year later. Because the client’s pending compensation application with the 9/11 Commission may result in a lump-sum payment large enough to pay the arrears on his mortgage, the lender agreed to a settlement: In exchange for withdrawal of the client’s answer, the lender would not apply for a final judgment. The lender took no action for an extended period, so the case was dismissed for lack of prosecution.
David is still waiting for a decision from the 9/11 fund. Hopefully, NNJLS’s assistance will ultimately result in him being able to pay off his mortgage, remain in his home, and get on with his life.
“Tanya” is a 76 year-old U.S. citizen who emigrated from Eastern Europe with her husband and has lived in subsidized housing for many years. Several years ago, her husband deserted her and returned to Europe to reside in an apartment that he inherited from his aunt. Tanya, who is disabled by both physical and emotional ailments, continued to reside in her subsidized apartment in New Jersey.
Despite Tanya’s pleas, the landlord insisted that the husband was still on the lease, and that he would remain a member of the household until he personally came to the landlord’s office and signed a certification removing himself from the lease. And since he was still a member of the household, the landlord demanded that Tanya furnish an appraisal of the apartment abroad—in English—so the landlord could determine whether the “family” had assets exceeding the allowable limit for Tanya’s subsidized apartment. When Tanya was unable to obtain either her husband’s return to New Jersey or an appraisal, the landlord revoked her subsidy and filed an eviction based on non-payment of the market rent for the unit.
Aided by her daughter, Tanya sought representation from NNJLS. Her case was assigned to an NNJLS staff attorney. After a series of negotiations, the attorney was able to convince the landlord that the husband’s property did not qualify as a countable asset, and that they should remove the husband from the lease without requiring him to return to New Jersey. Ultimately, after nearly a year of negotiations and court appearances, the eviction case was dismissed. Tanya thankfully remains in the apartment she has called home for many years.
“Maria,” a Spanish-speaking, single mom of a toddler, required emergency surgery at a local hospital. At the time of the surgery, Maria was eligible for New Jersey Charity Care, the New Jersey program providing relief for low-income persons receiving “necessary health care services.” The purposes of the NJ Charity Care program are to provide necessary medical treatment to low income patients, and to provide state subsidies to those hospitals which perform this essential service.
Despite her Charity Care eligibility, the doctors who performed Maria’s emergency procedure sued her for thousands of dollars. Maria did not know what to do and the anesthesiologists successfully won a default judgment against her. Maria was desperate for help and turned to Northeast New Jersey Legal Services (NNJLS) for legal assistance. Several other lawsuits by the surgeons followed soon after.
In the anesthesiologist case, NNJLS successfully won a motion to vacate the judgment, allowing us to prepare for an actual trial in the case. The judge agreed with NNJLS that “necessary health care services”—the emergency surgery for a serious condition—could not have been administered without the anesthesiologists’ services, and, therefore, that their services could be considered covered under the Charity Care statute. Soon after, the anesthesiologists dismissed their case against Maria.
In the surgeon group case, NNJLS brought the hospital into the lawsuit as a third party defendant, arguing that the hospital should be the party to reimburse on-site physicians for their Charity Care services. The hospital filed a motion to dismiss its involvement in the case. NNJLS then filed a brief with the court on Maria’s behalf and represented Maria in court. The case presented by the NNJLS attorney convinced the judge that since the hospital requires doctors to perform necessary health care services per its Charity Care duties, the hospital was therefore a necessary party in this case to determine liability. After the judge denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss, the surgeon group realized that pursuing the case would be fruitless. They dismissed their suit against Maria, saving her from a lifetime of attempting to pay the surgeons’ $11,000 bill. Instead, she can refocus her energy on what matters most: maintaining her health and raising her young child.