I fell behind on rent and now that the eviction ban is over, my landlord is taking me to housing court. What can I expect?
Housing court reopened in mid-October, but due to a significant backlog, it will take longer to resolve cases, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
Prior to the pandemic, Himmelstein says, a rent nonpayment case might take six months to a year to resolve. Today it’s likely to take longer, but just how long is difficult to predict.
In the meantime, tenants being sued for nonpayment of rent have steps they can take to prepare a defense.
“Tenants taken to court by a landlord who have filed a nonpayment or holdover for eviction are served with a notice of petition and petition,” says Ronald Languedoc, a partner at HMDGJ Law. “They have the opportunity then to complete a hardship declaration form and file that with the court.”
Submitting this form will automatically stay any further court proceedings until January 15th, 2022, unless the landlord challenges the tenant’s hardship claim. If the landlord does this, then the court will grant a hearing to determine the validity of the hardship claim; the tenant must prove they are indeed dealing with financial hardships that hinder their ability to pay rent.
For hearings and eviction cases, tenants have the right to counsel.
“There are attorneys from the Right to Counsel program standing by to represent any tenants,” Languedoc says. “The court will assign a date for a hearing, which could be in person, by telephone, or video.”
The question of when dates will be scheduled for new cases remains open, but it’s likely the process will take longer than it used to due to Covid delays. If you have to make an in-person appearance, Covid protocols are in place for your safety: courts are staggering appearances and maintaining rules about social distancing.
“After an initial conference about the issues of the case, further court appearances are scheduled depending on the nature of the case,” Languedoc says. “These could be either virtual or in person, depending on what the judge determines and what technology is available to all parties.”
There are certain types of cases that housing court prioritizes: Those involving landlords who illegally lock out tenants or terminate essential services, or cases alleging that tenants are involved in nuisance-type conduct will likely get dates in housing court more quickly. But for others, prepare to wait.
Languedoc notes that he is a representing a tenant in a nonpayment case and filed with the court several months ago, but has yet to receive a date for an appearance.
Tenants who are behind in rent should investigate to see whether they are eligible for rental assistance through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”) or other related programs. As of this writing, the funds are rapidly being depleted, but the state is seeking additional funding. A tenant who has an application for ERAP or related assistance pending will be entitled to an automatic stay of any eviction proceeding for nonpayment of rent.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.