Chapter 3 | Table of Contents | Chapter 5

A Tenantís Guide To The New York City Housing Court

Chapter 4
Going to Court

Section 4A
What to Bring to Court

  • Checklist of Items to Bring With You to Housing Court:

  • All court papers and other papers you have received from your landlord.

  • Your lease and renewal leases, if you have them.

  • If the case is for nonpayment of rent, bring proof of your rent payments. Bring rent receipts, canceled checks or copies of money orders.

  • Records of all your apartment and building problems, including problems with heat, hot water and all other repairs and services

  • Photographs of all problems in your apartment or building. Label the photograph with the date it was taken and what is pictured.

  • Copies of letters or other documents you sent to the landlord, superintendent or government agencies (and proof, if you have it, that the letters were mailed and received) regarding problems with your apartment or building.

  • Lists of the dates on which you talked with the landlord, superintendent or other building staff about problems in your apartment or building and what you said.

  • Receipts for labor and materials for any repairs that you made.

  • Anything else you believe will help your case.

  • If your case is scheduled for a hearing or trial, also bring all witnesses you want to testify. Your witnesses must be present for the hearing or trial because in general, sworn statements and affidavits are not permitted at a hearing or at trial.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. Issuing a Subpoena: If you have trouble getting documents or witnesses that you need, you can ask the Clerk or Judge to issue a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order that directs someone, including a government agency, to come to court on a particular date either to testify or to produce a document. You should ask for and serve a subpoena at least 48 hours before the trial date. There are subpoena forms in the Landlord-Tenant Clerk's Office. The Clerk will explain how to fill out the subpoena and give it to a Judge to sign if necessary.

  2. Proof of Conversations: bring any follow-up letters that you sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to your landlord or superintendent after you had conversations with them, as proof of those conversations.

  3. Proof of Letters Sent: Sending letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, is a good idea since that will give you proof of mailing and receipt.

Section 4B
What Do I Do When I Go to Court?

GET TO COURT EARLY! Leave plenty of time to get through security at the entrance of the courthouse. There are free childcare centers located in the Bronx, New York and Queens Housing Court buildings where you may leave young children while your case is being heard. On your first court date, you must be in the courtroom that you were told to go to by the Clerk (in a nonpayment case) or that was indicated in the Notice of Petition (in a holdover case). Remember that court may be an all day affair.

The first courtroom you go to is usually called a Resolution Part. The Resolution Part is a courtroom where the landlord and tenant have a chance to discuss and try to settle the case. The Resolution Part has a Housing Court Judge, two court attorneys, a court clerk, and a court officer. The Resolution Part oversees settlement negotiations, pre-trial motions, and enforces settlement agreements that were ordered by the court.

What Should I Do When I Go to the Resolution Part?

  1. Find your name on the calendar, usually posted in the hallway outside the courtroom. Write down the calendar number of your case.

  2. Tell the court clerk or officer that you are the tenant in the case and give them the calendar number. Let him or her know if you need an interpreter or if you have an application to make before the Judge.

  3. Ask the court clerk if you also have to check or circle your name on a list of cases.

  4. Be seated in the courtroom, or stay near the courtroom so you can hear when your case is called.

  5. Silence is required in the courtroom.

  6. You are free to try to settle the case with your landlord or your landlordís attorney, but you do not have to speak with him or her without the Judge or the court attorney being present.

  7. If you decide to speak with your landlord but would like the Court Attorney to be present and lead the conference tell the Court Clerk.

  8. In some counties, mediators are available who will facilitate a settlement with your landlord. Let the Clerk know that you would like to have a mediator deal with your case.

  9. After you settle the case, and even if you do not settle the case, you will be brought before the judge. If there was some reason that kept you from settling the case, you should tell the judge, as he or she might be able to make a suggestion or propose something that may be acceptable to both you and the landlord.

What Should I do When My Case is Called?

Each case will be called by the Judge or the court attorney.

  1. When your case is called, the landlord and tenant will meet with the Judge or the court attorney.

  2. In a nonpayment case, your written answer or the record of your oral answer should be in the court file; in a holdover case, if you served and filed a written answer, it should be in the court file. The Judge or court attorney should look at your answer. You can ask the Judge to add other defenses to your answer.

  3. If your apartment needs repairs you can ask for an inspection. (See p. 18, Section 6A, "How to Request a Housing Inspection")

  4. If you need time to get an attorney or documents, or if you are not ready to discuss your case, you can ask to come back on a later date. That is called an "adjournment."

  5. The Judge can make you deposit the rent the landlord claims is owed as of the date the court papers were served if you request two adjournments or if the case has been in court for more than 30 days.

  6. If you are not able to settle your case with the landlord before being called by the Judge or the court attorney, tell the Judge or the court attorney your side of the case and whether you disagree with something the other side says. Sometimes the Judge or the court attorney is able to help you and your landlord reach an agreement.

  7. If you are able to settle your case with your landlord either before or after you meet with the Judge or court attorney, a Stipulation of Settlement will be written. (See p. 11, Section 4C, "Settlements and Stipulations") You will then go before the Judge with the stipulation. The Judge should explain what is in the stipulation and ask you if you have any questions about the stipulation. Be sure to ask questions if you do not understand anything in the stipulation. If you disagree with anything in the stipulation or feel that you were forced into agreeing to the stipulation, tell the Judge. No one can force you to settle a case.

If the case is not settled, it will be sent to Part X to be scheduled for trial on that day or another day. The trial will take place in a different courtroom, called a "Trial Part." At a trial, the landlord will have to prove his or her case and you will have to prove your defenses or claims. (See p. 12, Section 4D, "Trials")

If the case is adjourned or scheduled for trial on another date, be sure to come back to Court on that date and go to the courtroom you were told to go to by the Court. Follow the same instructions given above about checking your name on the calendar and checking in with the court clerk. If the case has been adjourned for trial, be sure that you come back to Court with all of your evidence and witnesses. (See p. 12, Section 4D, "Trials")

If you get any papers from the landlord or from the Court that tell you to come back to Court on a different date, do not ignore them. Be sure you go back to court on that date. It is important that you read any papers that you receive because you may have to respond to them before going back to court, or when you go back to court.

If you have any questions about the papers or about what will happen when you go back to Court, you can speak to an attorney in the Resource Center who will provide information as to how the trial will be run.

Section 4C
Settlements and Stipulations

You and your landlord may reach a settlement to your case in the Resolution Part, in mediation, or even in the Trial Part, with or without the assistance of the Judge, the court attorney or the court mediator. Reaching an agreement is usually easier in a nonpayment case than in a holdover case, since the landlord usually wants you to move out in a holdover case. Most nonpayment cases are settled rather than tried.

Be careful. Agree only to what you think is fair and be sure you can do what you promise. Be sure you know what legal rights you may be giving up. Do not sign anything until you have read and understood the whole agreement and if you have any questions, wait until the court attorney or the Judge has explained to you what you are signing. If you have any questions or doubts, you have the right to talk to the Judge.

In a nonpayment proceeding, if the issue is repairs, the stipulation should set up access dates and completion dates for existing repairs. If the landlord is agreeing to waive some of the rent you owe because of the conditions you have lived with in the apartment, the stipulation should specify the amount and time period covered. If the stipulation sets up an installment plan for you to pay back rent over time, be sure that you will be able to make the payments you are agreeing to make. If you are expecting rent money from the Department of Social Services, keep in mind that there can sometimes be delays. Remember, if the stipulation contains a final judgment for the landlord and you fail to make a payment, a Judge may not sign an Order to Show Cause giving you more time to pay unless you can deposit all of the money due on the judgment with the Court, or unless the stipulation says that you can get more time without depositing all of the rent money.

In a holdover case, the stipulation should give you enough time to correct any issues which you have agreed to take care of. If you have agreed to give up the apartment or the landlord has agreed to waive rent in exchange for giving up the apartment, the stipulation should give you enough time to find a place to move.

If you cannot pay on time, or cannot do other things you promised in the stipulation, go to the Landlord-Tenant Clerk's office and ask for an Order to Show Cause to get more time. (See p. 16, Section 5B, "Order to Show Cause") A Judge will read your affidavit and decide whether to give you more time. If your request for more time is denied, you may be evicted if you cannot pay on time or keep other promises you made in the agreement.

Section 4D
Trials

When you enter the Trial Part courtroom, tell the court clerk or the court officer your name and the name of your case. If there is space in the courtroom, wait there to see how other tenants and lawyers talk to the Judge, try to settle cases, or actually do a trial or hearing. When your case is called, answer "tenant" and go before the Judge. The Judge will ask you and the landlord or his or her attorney some questions and may again try to settle the case. If you do not settle the case and both sides are ready, the Judge will probably hold a trial of your case that day.

Be sure to have all witnesses and documents ready before you go out to trial. If you need to have the case put off in order to get documents or witnesses you will need for the trial, you can ask the Trial Part to put off your case, but this may be very hard to do since cases that are sent to the Trial Part are supposed to be ready to go to Trial. For nonpayment proceedings, bring all rent receipts and statements that you have in your possession. You will be able to refer to the court inspection, if there is one, to help you talk about the conditions in your apartment and you can also use photographs to help the Judge understand how bad the problems are. (See "What I Should Bring to Court?" page regarding some of the evidence you may need at a trial),

During the trial, you should not argue with or address your objections, comments or arguments to the landlord or his or her attorney. Everything should be addressed to the Judge to try to convince the Judge to decide in your favor. In the same way, the landlord or his or her attorney should not address his or her arguments, comments or objections to you, but to the Judge. Neither you nor the landlord should interrupt each other unless you are making an objection during the trial. Shouting or talking in a way that might be seen as disrespectful will not help your case. Try to remain calm and courteous while you tell your story to the Judge in a clear and persuasive way.

At trial, the landlord's case will be presented first. All witnesses will be asked to swear or affirm that they will tell the truth. What the witness says to the court is called "testimony."

During the landlord's case, you can "object" to questions that are being asked of a witness or to documents the landlord introduces. You can "object" if you think there is a good reason why the testimony or the document should not be allowed by the Judge, not just because you disagree with it. You can object if the witness does not have personal knowledge of the things he or she is talking about, but is only repeating what someone else told him or her (this is called "hearsay"). You can also object if you think that the testimony or document has nothing to do with the case (this is called "irrelevant"). You can object if a government document is not certified or if a document is not an original or has been changed.

After each of the landlord's witnesses finishes testifying, you can ask him/her questions about the testimony. This is called "cross-examination."

After the landlord puts on his or her case, you will have a chance to present your case, including testifying on your own behalf and presenting other witnesses or evidence to the Judge. You must bring all evidence and witnesses to court on the day of the trial. (See p. 8, Section 4A, "What to Bring to Court" regarding some of the evidence you may need at a trial) The Judge will not accept written statements, even if they are notarized, from your witnesses. Your witnesses must appear in person to testify. However, the Judge will accept public records if they are certified by the government agency that issued them, for example, printouts from the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHPD), or the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR).

The landlord or his or her lawyer may "object" to things that you or your witnesses say, or to documents or photographs that you try to give to the Judge. If you do not understand the landlord's objection, ask the Judge to explain it. If the Judge agrees with the landlord's objection to your testimony or other evidence (that's called "sustaining" the objection), you or your witness may not be able to tell that part of your story to the Judge or you may not be able to give a particular document or photograph to the Judge. Therefore, it is important that you try to understand what is going on to the best of your ability.

All witnesses, including you, will be asked to swear or affirm that they will tell the truth. The Judge will listen to you and your witnesses, and will look at documents, photographs, and other evidence before making a decision. Tell the Judge the facts of your case in a simple, straightforward way. Think of it as trying to tell a story to someone. The important thing is for you and your witnesses to tell the Judge the facts of your story in a clear, organized and understandable way.

The Judge cannot give you legal advice about your case, but he or she can explain what is going on, and the procedures and rules that must be followed at a trial.

What to Do After a Final Judgment Has Been Made in a Nonpayment Case:

If the Judge finds that you owe rent, then he or she will issue a judgment in favor of the landlord for the amount of rent and will usually give you only five days to pay that amount. If you pay the full amount to the landlord within that time, the case is over. If the landlord refuses to accept the rent within those five days, you may pay the judgment amount by bank or certified check or money order to the Clerk of the Civil Court. The check or money order should be made payable to the "New York City Department of Finance."

If you cannot pay the full amount of the judgment within five days, the landlord can have a City Marshal ask for a warrant of eviction. Before your eviction, the City Marshal is required to serve you with a notice of eviction. (See p. 15, Section 5A, "Notice of Eviction" ) If you need more time to pay the full judgment amount, do not wait until you get the Marshal's Notice of Eviction to go to court to ask for an Order to Show Cause. (See p. 16, Section, "Order to Show Cause") However, it may be difficult to get a Judge to sign an Order to Show Cause to give you more time to pay the judgment unless you can deposit the entire amount of the judgment with the Court. If the reason you cannot pay the judgment amount on time is because, through no fault of yours, the Department of Social Services has delayed in giving you the money, be sure to put that fact in your Order to Show Cause along with any supporting documentation. Also include proof of any available funds.

What To Do After a Final Judgment Has Been Made in a Holdover Case:

If the Judge finds that the landlord has proven his or her case, that is, that you have broken important terms of your lease or that the other reasons stated by the landlord for evicting you are serious, you may be given time to correct the problem. If you correct the problem within the amount of time the Judge gives you (usually ten days), the case is over and you can remain in your apartment.

If you do not correct the problem within the time given or if the law does not give you time to correct a problem after trial, the Judge may order you to move out of your apartment. In most cases, the Judge has the power to give you up to six months to move if you pay a fair "use and occupancy" (usually the rent amount) during that time. In general, you will get two to three months to move at first. If you have not moved within that time and want more time, you must go back to Court for an Order to Show Cause to get the additional time. (See p. 16, Section 5B, "Order to Show Cause" ) You may have to convince the Judge that you really have tried to find another apartment in order to get the additional time. Keep all ads for apartments that you tried to get, with dates and notes like "already taken," "too small" or "in bad neighborhood" to show to the Judge. The Judge may give you extra time to move, but almost never more than a total of six months. When your time to move is up, the landlord can get a City Marshal to serve a notice of eviction to you and then evict you.

During the time that you stay in the apartment you will probably be ordered to pay an amount of money to the landlord, but now it is called "use and occupancy" or "U & O." The Judge will tell you how much "U & O" to pay. It will usually be the same amount as your rent was, but it is possible it will be set based on the market value of the apartment. The Judge may allow the landlord to evict you if the U & O is not paid on time.

 

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