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NYC Housing Court: An Introduction and Overview

NYC Housing court is one of the busiest in the country. This LT (Landlord-Tenant) court handles both commercial and residential rentals. Commercial cases are normally done more quickly than residential ones.

Usually in a commercial case, if the tenant has no money for rent, the matter is over quickly and the tenant leaves. Sometimes there are issues about the stock and who takes possession but for the most part, the commercial tenant leaves before the eviction or because of the eviction.

Residential Evictions

The process begins with a Notice from the Landlord to the tenant about a legal issue. Here are the most

common:

1) The rent is unpaid, or late.

2) The Tenant is a holdover, staying past the time when the Lease ends.

3) The Tenant has violated an important rule or regulation of the landlord (crime on site; more tenants than in the Lease; causing a nuisance to other tenants or to the Landlord).

Petition for Eviction

After the notice is given by the Landlord and ignored by the Tenant, the Landlord files a petition for eviction.

In NYC this is done in housing court, also known as LT court. The court is operated by the City. The Tenant can file a Response, or Answer to the Petition. The person or company filing the petition is known as the petitoner, and the Tenant answering is known as the Respondent. Most commonly in Housing court, the two are simply called Landlord and Tenant.

The Answer can claim certain defenses: rent paid, regulations not broken, the residence is not inhabitable,lack of proper or timely notice; it is a multi-residential unit not registered as such with the City.

A lawyer is not required, but usually the Landlord has a legal representative and the Tenant does not.

Sometimes legal aide or the court will provide a legal representative for a residential tenant.

The Courthouse

There are Housing courts in all five city courthouses. Since there are many such cases, the different judges are assigned Letter names, such as Part A, Part B, etc. The first Part a case is assigned to is usually in one Part. If the matter cannot be resolved there, the parties may be sent to an expediter. The expediter then sends the case to a trial part. So a party can be in three different places for a housing court matter.

Default

Usually cases in NYC begin at 9:30a.m. Some matters may be heard at 11:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m.

The court expects both sides to appear. For 9:30 a.m. calls, the court waits until 11, and if both parties fail to show, or no petitioner comes, the court declares the matter "dismissed." No eviction can be secured from a dismissed case. If the tenant does not show up, the court may declare a default and issue an order for eviction. In certain cases, the court may grant an adjournment. There is a legal proceeding by motion to vacate a default judgment and restore the matter to the trial calendar,

Hearing

The court hearing is before a judge. If one side it not ready, or has yet to hire a lawyer, the court may grant a continuance and/or adjournment which moves the hearing to a new date. The court posts a lists of cases each hearing date on an outside wall, and the court assigns a calendar number to each case. Both sides go to the officer and tell which side they are on and which calendar number is theirs. The judge is assisted by a court attorney, a court officer and some others who are there to assist the judge and the tenants. A court reporter or stenographer may record the entire hearing. In some cases the hearing is taped and if required typed by a stenographer at a later date. Housing advocates are there to help those about to be evicted. Translators are available for those who do not speak English.

Settlement Conferences

Since trials can be long and tiring, judges often use a mediator or court officer to see if a settlement can be reached. Sometimes a tenant may need a payout plan, or more time to relocate. A settlement agreement can include concessions on both sides. When submitted to the court, signed by both sides and also has a "So Ordered" signed by the judge, the agreement then becomes an order of the court. Usually a judge will recite the terms of the settlement and have both sides place on the record (spoken out loud) that they understand the terms. If both sides have lawyers this may not be done since the court assumes the lawyers have explained the settlement to the clients. One usual requirement in a settlement order, is that if the terms are not met, the Landlord can secure an eviction order without any further legal proceeding before the court.

Order to Show Cause

An Order to Show Cause (OTSC) is a legal proceeding intended to oppose an eviction, or to contest and order for eviction. There can be several reasons for this: the apartment is rent controlled or rent stabilized and the rent is too high. The Landlord has not done needed repairs. The Landlord has violated city building codes so there is a lack of safety. (The NYC Housing Department can fine the Landlord if the violations are serious).

Inquest

This is a final hearing before a judge to determine what is to be done, and if there are any credits to offset the rent demand. An inquest would be held if the court determines that there has been an incomplete trial (one side did not show up, or an uncertainty as to the actual rent due). Once the inquest is completed, the court issues an Order.

Judgment or Order for Eviction

If the court finds that the Landlord is right and the tenant wrong, then a judgment order in favor of the Landlord and against the Tenant is issued by the court. The written order is given to both sides, and to the city marshall. It also lists the amount of rent due. The city marshall is the only court officer who can legally evict a tenant and the marshall must have a court order in order to do that. A Landlord cannot order a tenant out of an apartment or lock a tenant out without the order, and if this is done, the Tenant can file an Order to Show Cause in housing court to be allowed back into the apartment. The marshall must take the Order for Eviction and deliver it to the tenant or attach it to the door. The tenant has 72 hours to leave. The marshall has the legal authority to remove persons and all household goods from an apartment at this time. (Many tenants leave beforehand to avoid this). An eviction can be stayed by the tenant paying the marshall and/or the court the amount due. In this case, it must be the total amount, not a partial payment as is permitted by a prior settlement agreement.

Summary Proceeding and Possession as Opposed to a Money Judgment

Although this system can be long, it is considered a "Summary Proceeding" which means it is a relatively quick one. The money at stake and the judgment issued is for possession only. So if the Tenant pays the money to the Landlord, the court or to the marshall, the eviction is stopped and the Tenant resumes possession. The court does not issue a money judgment. Sometimes, the Landlord may secure the eviction but not be paid the rent. The Landlord may sue in NY civic court for a payment of money, and the judgment order issued by that court can be used to attach the assets of the tenant or cause a wage garnishnent.

Additional resources provided by the author

My Legal Guide on Landlord/Tenant Litigation and Landlord/Tenant Rules and Regulations

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