Before you can be legally evicted from your apartment, the landlord must begin a case against you in the Housing Part of Civil Court, commonly called “Housing Court.” If the landlord wants to evict you for not paying rent, you must be served with papers called a “Non-Payment Petition” and “Notice of Petition.” These papers are often called “a dispossess notice.”
DO NOT IGNORE any legal papers, notices or postcards that come from the court. If you ignore these papers and do not go to court, you can lose the case for failure to answer and you can be evicted.
Answering the Dispossess
When you receive a dispossess notice, read it carefully. It will tell you that you must file an answer in Housing Court within five days. It will also tell you where you must go. (Find the specific location of the Housing Court in this Information Sheet). Go immediately with your papers to the Housing Court in the borough in which your building is located and see the landlord/tenant clerk. Be ready to give your answer to the clerk, either orally or in writing. Your answer should state your defenses. Some possible defenses are:
- Your apartment is in poor condition and has serious violations that the landlord has refused to repair (see section marked “important”).
- You paid the rent or the landlord is demanding the wrong amount of rent or you tried to pay the rent and the landlord refused to accept it.
- Your dispossess or Notice of Petition was not “served” or delivered to you properly (see section marked “proper service”).
- Your landlord never asked you for the rent.
- The person or company suing you is not your landlord.
Important: If your apartment Is in poor or hazardous condition and you need repairs, or your building lacks essential services such as heat and/or hot water, tell the court clerk that you want to schedule an inspection of your apartment and/or building by the court’s DHPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) Inspectors. Fill out a complete list of all the needed repairs and include it with your answer. If the clerk tells you that an Inspector is not available, be prepared to ask the judge when you appear on your court date.
The dispossess must be served to you one of three ways:
- handed to you personally
- handed to someone in your apartment and copies sent by certified AND regular mail to you
- taped on or slipped under your door and copies sent by certified AND regular mail to you
After you have given your answer to the clerk and asked for an inspection, the clerk will give you a date to come back to court for a hearing, usually one week later. On your court date, bring with you all your papers related to your case: rent receipts, cancelled checks, photographs of poor conditions, records that you may have kept regarding conditions and/or lack of repairs, etc.
Your Day in Court
When you return to court on the day the clerk has indicated, go to the Calendar Part, Part 18 (unless otherwise directed). Be there by 9:30 am sharp. If you are late you may lose your case for failure to appear and can be evicted. This is a large, busy, noisy and often confusing place. Listen carefully for your name to be called. If you are ready to go to trial when your case is called, answer clearly “TENANT READY.” If you could not schedule an inspection in the clerk”s office, say “TENANT REQUESTS INSPECTION.” If you need to postpone or adjourn your case to another day, say “TENANT APPLICATION.” You may have to approach the judge and explain why you need another date.
If both you and the landlord answer “ready,” your case may be reviewed by a mediator or you will be sent to another room called the “trial part”. Go to the room you have been assigned and tell the court officer there that you are the tenant and you are ready. You may have to wait a long time for the landlord and/or his or her attorney to appear. Remind the court officer that you are still waiting. (On Staten Island you will not be sent to another room until your case is discussed with the judge in Part 18.)
Settling Your Case
Before seeing the trial part judge you may be urged to try to agree to a settlement with your landlord or your landlord”s attorney. You may listen to the landlord”s offer but remember: you are under no obligation to accept the landlord”s offer. Present what you think is a fair settlement. Don”t feel pressured. You always have the right to a hearing before a judge.
If you decide to settle the case with the landlord make sure the agreement is in writing. This written agreement is called a “stipulation,” and it should say what each side has promised to do and what will happen if the agreement is not followed. If you need repairs you can ask to make them a condition for paying back rent. If you have poor conditions in your apartment you can ask to lower the amount of money owed: this is called a “rent abatement,” Make sure you agree with the amount of money the stipulation says you owe. Make sure you have read the stipulation carefully, that you understand it before signing it, and that a copy is read by the judge and filed with the court. If you have questions about what you are signing, ask the judge to explain it.
Going Before the Judge
If you do not want to settle the case, tell the court officer that you want to have a conference in front of the judge. (When you speak to the judge make sure that what is being said is “on the record” — either recorded on tape or by the court stenographer.) The judge or his/her law assistant may try to mediate the case. If a settlement still cannot be reached, the judge may order a trial. The landlord must prove to the judge that s/he is entitled to rent and you will have the opportunity to state your defenses. Keep in mind that if you do agree to go to trial and lose the case you may be ordered to pay your rent money within a short period of time.
If your apartment has serious repair problems and the landlord has refused to make repairs you should be prepared to prove that these conditions exist. Testify yourself and ask others to testify. If you are working with a tenant advocate, you may ask that person to testify. Show pictures of the conditions. Your most important evidence will be the report of the inspection on your apartment that you requested when you answered your dispossess. Ask the judge to look at the inspection report written by the DHPD inspector.
What Might Happen Next
Several things may happen as a result of your day in court. The judge may sign your stipulation “So Ordered by the Court.” The judge may decide to issue an Order requiring you to pay the rent by a certain date. S/he may also issue an Order requiring you to pay the rent and requiring the landlord to make repairs.
If you do not pay the rent by the date agreed to in court either by stipulation or by court order, the landlord will go back to court and get a “Warrant of Eviction”. You will then receive a “72-Hour Notice” from the Marshal. Do not ignore this notice! Go to the court immediately and ask at the Clerk”s office for an Order to Show Cause. Explain why you failed to pay the amount of money you agreed to pay or were ordered to pay by the court. If your argument has merit, you will be given the opportunity to go before a judge again. You should also go back to court and request an Order to Show Cause if you pay the rent but the landlord does not make the repairs ordered.
Important: 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.
Where to Go for Help
The Housing Divisions of the Civil Court:
111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
141 Livingston Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
927 Castleton Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10310
851 Grand Concourse (at 161 Street)
Bronx, NY 10451
120-55 Queens Boulevard
Kew Gardens, NY 11424
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 Street
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 was 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.