New York City housing advocates and elected officials are calling on the city’s Housing Court to change a decision that prevents renters from filing complaints and suing their landlords online.
During the pandemic, when NYC courts were closed, if renters needed help stopping a landlord’s harassment or getting badly needed apartment repairs, they could take a landlord to court virtually using a tool on Justfix.nyc. The nonprofit developed the tool with the courts and says it helped more than 3,000 renters file emergency Housing Part actions during the pandemic.
But at the end of May, the court notified the organization that all HP actions filed through its tool would be rejected. A spokesperson from JustFix tells Brick that the only explanation they received is that the court is auditing its policies.
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The court also reinstated requirements that make it difficult for renters to file complaints online: Renters must now sign the paperwork in the presence of a notary, submit it to the court clerk, and pay a $45 fee in person or through the court’s e-filing system. These requirements were previously waived due to the pandemic.
One obstacle may soon be fixed: A recent bill passed by the New York State Legislature would make electronic notarization permanent, but it hasn't yet been signed into law. The state’s emergency order permitting electronic notarization expired on June 24th.
In response to the court blocking online complaints through their site, JustFix today sent a letter to Judge Lawrence K. Marks, chief administrative judge, asking the court to reinstate a filing fee waiver, as well as waive the requirement that HP petitions be notarized. The organization says it has support from assembly members Harvey Epstein, Marcela Mitaynes, and Zohran Kwame Mamdani plus organizations including Chhaya CDC and Met Council on Housing.
A representative from New York court system tells Brick they had not yet received the letter but “will give due consideration to any concerns that are addressed.”
Having to appear in person in Housing Court means senior, disabled, and high-risk New Yorkers may be deterred from filing a complaint against their landlord.
“While pandemic-related eviction protections extend through at least August 31st, 2021, unrepresented tenants with dangerous conditions are among the only litigants forced to visit Housing Court in person,” according to a statement from JustFix.
Renters are still able to use the New York State electronic filing system for online complaints, but the system is designed for attorneys and filings often take several days to process so “tenants have no choice but to visit Housing Court to file an HP action,” according to the statement from JustFix.