Your landlord is required by law to provide adequate services and to keep your building and apartment in good repair. If your landlord is not providing essential services such as heat and hot water or making repairs even though you have notified him/her in writing of the conditions in your apartment, you can sue your landlord in the Housing Part of Civil Court. This court is commonly called "Housing Court." The Court can order your landlord to provide services and make repairs. This action is called a Tenant-initiated action' or a Housing Part ("HP") Action. Individual tenants as well as tenant groups can start HP Actions for repairs.
How To File
Go to the Clerk's office of the Housing Court in the borough which your building is located. (See this Information Sheet for the addresses of the Housing Courts). Be prepared to wait in line. Tell the clerk that you want to bring an HP action against your landlord. The clerk will give you court papers.
The fee for bringing the action is $35. This fee may be waived if you cannot afford to pay. If you have a low income you should tell the clerk that you want to file a "poor person's" application and fill out the additional papers stating your financial situation.
Ask the clerk to schedule an inspection of the conditions in your apartment and/or building by the court inspectors from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHPD). Each tenant will be asked to fill out a form called a "Request for an Inspection" listing the poor conditions, as well as a separate form. Make sure that everything that needs repair in your apartment or building is listed.
After the forms are filled out, the clerk will either take the forms and tell you to wait or will direct you to a judge who will sign the papers. The papers, signed by a judge are called an Order to Show Cause and will indicate the date to come back to court.
Serving The Court Papers
You will be given several copies of the court papers. You must deliver one copy to the owner and one to the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHPD). The papers will say how they have to be delivered.
Preparing For Your Day In Court
Gather evidence to show that services not been provided or repairs have not been made. For example, take photographs of conditions in your apartment or building and gather copies of letters you have written notifying the landlord of problems.
It is a good idea to keep a written record of building and/or apartment problems noting any steps you may have taken, such as phone calls to the landlord or conversations with the superintendent, to have the problems corrected . Write down dates and times.
If a group of tenants in your building has initiated the HP Action it is important to meet before the court date to agree on a plan of action and to go over evidence. You may want to choose which tenants will testify.
Your Day In Court
Come to Court on the date written on the Order to Show Cause. Your Order to Show Cause will also tell you in what room your case will be heard. Bring your photographs, written record of complaints, letters, and court papers with you. Be there at 9:30 a.m. SHARP. All the cases scheduled for that day will be called in this courtroom. Answer TENANT READY. when your name is called.
In this courtroom you will see many people including the judge, his/her law assistant, the landlord and his/her attorney, the court officer, and other tenants and landlords.
There may also be an attorney from the DHPD's Litigation Unit. The DHPD attorney is there to represent the City. Although this person is not your lawyer and may have interests which are different from yours, it is the City's legal responsibility to make sure that the repairs in your building and/or apartment are made.
If a DHPD attorney has been assigned to your case s/he may call out your building's address or your name and ask to speak to you. Tell the DHPD attorney about the conditions in your apartment/building and show him/her your evidence. The DHPD attorney should help you get a copy of the inspector's report based on the inspection you requested when you filed your HP Action.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you get the name and telephone number at the DHPD attorney before you leave the court. It will be Important later on to follow-up with the DHPD attorney, especially if the landlord does not make the repairs.
The court may urge you to negotiate a settlement with your landlord. The landlord may agree to make repairs but may argue that more time is needed. If you want to accept the landlord's settlement a "stipulation" will be written that outlines the agreement between you and the landlord. Make sure that any stipulation is signed and stamped "So Ordered" by the judge. This is the only way that the agreement is enforceable.
You may not agree with the proposed settlement with the landlord. You have the right to demand to have a hearing and have your case heard by the judge. Tell your story at the hearing. Show the judge your photographs, written record of complaints, letters, and other evidence. Ask the judge to examine the DHPD inspection report.
A history of your building's past violations should be stored in the computer the judge has in his/her courtroom. (Keep in mind, however, that the information on this computer is 8 to 10 weeks behind). If you requested an inspection on the day you filed your papers, that report SHOULD be available. YOUR GOAL IS TO GET THE JUDGE TO ISSUE A COURT ORDER FOR THE REPAIRS. If the landlord does not show up in court the court can still order that the repairs be made.
If the judge issues an Order, make sure you get the index number of your case before you leave. The original Order will be on file but it may not be possible to get a copy that day. However, you can contact the court or the DHPD attorney and ask for a copy when it is ready. Knowing the index number is important, especially if the landlord does not make the repairs on time and you need to return to Court. You may also have to prove that you delivered a copy of the Order to the landlord in the proper manner.
IMPORTANT: Your Order or Stipulation should include a schedule of what repairs are needed and when they should be done. It is a good idea to add a list of dates and times that you will be available to allow the landlord access to your apartment to make the repairs. This may help to avoid problems later if the landlord claims you were not home when s/he sent repair people to do me work.
Follow-Up After Court
If the landlord begins to make repairs, keep track of when they are completed and of what work remains to be done. Be sure someone is in your apartment on the dates that have been agreed upon to let the landlord in. If the landlord asks you to provide access to your apartment for repairs and then does not show up, keep a record of these dates and any attempts you may make to reschedule.
If the landlord does not complete the repairs within the amount of time indicated in the Order, you will need to go back to court. Ask the clerk to put your case back on the calendar for the purpose of holding the landlord in contempt of court and for civil and criminal fines. This means the landlord can be fined or jailed.
IMPORTANT: Contempt cases are complicated and time consuming. Be prepared for a tough fight! Landlords are rarely put In jail and if they are fined, the fines are often small. Several things may help strengthen your case: a) keep good records; b) stay in close touch with me DHPD lawyer and the DHPD Inspectors; and c) organize other tenants in the building to take action as a group.
You should always seek advice as soon as you receive legal papers. Never ignore papers from the court. If you do you may be evicted. Consult a lawyer or a neighborhood housing organization as soon as possible.
The Housing Parts of the Civil Court are located:
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
141 Livingston Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
927 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10310
851 Grand Concourse (at 161st St.)
Bronx, NY 10451
120-55 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11424
Where to go for help
THE CITY-WIDE TASK FORCE ON HOUSING COURT staffs Information Tables in each of the five Housing Courts five mornings a week (except Staten Island, which is open Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.) The information is free and is available to all unrepresented litigants. Referrals will be made to neighborhood groups and legal services organizations for additional assistance.
If you have a low income, you may be eligible for free legal services. To get the addresses of the legal services office closest to your neighborhood, contact:
The Legal Aid Society
11 Park Place or 230 East 106 St.
New York, NY
Legal Services for New York City
New York, 10029
If you need a referral for a lawyer and you are not eligible for free legal services, contact:
The Bar Association
42 West 44 Street
New York, NY 10010
The Civil Court Info line has recorded information on Housing Court. The number is (212)791-6000.
If you are being evicted for nonpayment of rent, you may be eligible for an Emergency Grant from the Human Resources Administration (HRA), There is an HRA Unit in each Housing Court.
Each Housing Court, except Staten Island, has a Pro-Se Attorney who is there to help persons without an attorney who need advice and Information. The Clerk's office can direct you to the Pro-Se Attorney in the Court.
THIS INFORMATION SHEET has been written and prepared by the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, Inc., a not-for-profit coalition of community housing organizations. This information was not prepared by attorneys but by experienced housing organizers and should not be thought of as legal advice.