Dealing with Delays in Housing Court

If you are a landlord in New York City and have been to Housing Court recently, you know the process of obtaining your overdue rent or trying a case has become exceedingly difficult.

In the 1980s, a Civil Court judge was designated for the Calendar Assignment Part on a weekly basis. The Part originally known as Part 49, and later Part 18, would hear all motions, then send cases to different parts of the Housing Court for trial. Cases were not adjourned more than 10 days unless both sides consented. Compared to the current process, when there may actually be fewer calendared cases, those were the days.

Unfortunately, the court now works as follows. After a tenant answers a petition in a nonpayment case and appears on the date given by the clerk of the court (or appears on a given date in a holdover proceeding), the landlord will rarely be given an immediate trial. If there is no agreement between the parties, the court will adjourn the proceeding about a month, depending on its schedule. It is patently absurd that a trial-ready case is not sent out immediately or at least within 10 days. Why should the litigants wait over a month to be heard?

There is no longer a central part that hears all motions—each case is assigned to a designated Conference Part where motions are heard. After the resolution of all motions, or if the case is not settled, the case is sent to Part X for assignment to a trial part. If there are not enough judges available on the day the case is sent to Part X (which is generally the case), the case is adjourned to a date on which the landlord hopes the case can finally be heard.

Once the case is sent to Part X, it is the Part X clerk’s duty to find a trial judge available to hear the case. Unfortunately, most cases are adjourned after their attorneys have been made to wait hours because a judge is delayed by another trial or because there are just not enough judges for the usual number of cases. Recognizing the chronic dilemma, the Part X clerk will ask judges’ law assistants to attempt to settle cases awaiting trial. In the past, that has proved to have positive results.

The above scenario does not address motions made in the conference parts, where many judges can hold cases for months before finally issuing a decision. When the decision is finally made, the case could be sent back to the initial stages of litigation.

Although there is no quick fix for this legal environment, here are a few suggestions for effectively managing the process: Be present, be prepared, and be patient.

Be present. Having a client present is important, even as the case is on for the first time. It tells the court and the other side that the case is important. The landlord’s presence will have the case brought before the court quicker than in the landlord’s absence.

Be prepared. Bring the certified deed, MDR, DHCR documents, and rent records to court with the original lease and renewals. That puts you in a position to affirmatively answer the challenge when the court asks, “So, are you ready for trial?”

Be patient. Finally, of course, be patient with the judges, clerks, and law assistants when negotiating during the initial stages of the case. It is not necessary to agree, particularly if you are ready for trial.

Attorneys practicing in Housing Court work hard and under difficult circumstances to get results for their clients. However, the system imposed upon them and their clients makes it difficult and time consuming to obtain justice. What remains constant is the need for strong advocacy in a court that is not always listening or sympathetic.