Housing Court Answers (formerly City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court) has been the best place to go for information about Housing Court for people without lawyers for over thirty years. We are the major voice in reforming the Housing Court. Over the years, we have fought to reform the tenant screening process (known as the blacklist), establish a right to counsel and require the courts to post basic rights and responsibilities.
Housing Court Answers provides Information Tables in the city’s Housing Courts and we staff a hotline for callers with information about housing law, rent arrears assistance, and homeless prevention guidance. We staff an Information Table at 250 Broadway to assist public housing and section 8 tenants in termination hearings. We also conduct trainings for community groups, unions, elected officials and others on Housing Court procedures, eviction prevention programs and housing law. And, last but most important, we fight every day for the rights of unrepresented people in Housing Court.
Housing Court Answers was founded in 1981 when a group of concerned advocates working at community based groups and legal service offices started two task forces to help tenants without lawyers in the Bronx and Brooklyn Housing Courts. They got permission from the courts to set up card tables in the lobbies, and started providing information to all pro se litigants (see fighting for justice below), tenant or landlord. They gave out fact sheets and information to people and worked with court personnel to expand services to poor people. Through advocacy campaigns and research, Housing Court Answers convinced the court system to make access to justice for pro se litigants a priority. The organization conducted a comprehensive study of Housing Court, called Five Minute Justice, in 1986 showing that the average case involving an unrepresented tenant was dealt with in about five minutes. Understanding that this was devastating for the thousands of tenants whose homes were at stake, the organization worked with others to file a class action lawsuit (Donaldson vs. the State of New York) to try and win the right to counsel for poor people in Housing Court. A study, the Donaldson Report, done in conjunction with the suit confirmed the tremendous imbalance – 88% of tenants in Housing Court could not afford attorneys while 97% of landlords were represented by counsel. Donaldson also showed that 66% of tenants were eligible for free legal assistance but most were unable to get it because of a lack of funding for legal providers.
Today the staff of Housing Court Answers works with pro se litigants – tenants and landlords – who arrive at Housing Court without attorneys, unable to afford them, and confused by the procedures. Our Information Table staff and our Hotline Specialists collaborate with community groups, legal services providers, eviction prevention specialists, academicians, and elected officials to further the goal of justice in Housing Court as a means to reducing homelessness in New York City.
Pro se litigants: by now, you have figured out what this term means. Pro se is a Latin term that means “for himself” so these are men and women without attorneys to speak for them. Litigant is also from Latin and it means a person involved in a court case. This is one of the MANY legal and foreign language terms used in court to confuse people without lawyers. A lawyer’s job is to win a case for his or her client. Lawyers who are representing a landlord or tenant in a case are not trying to be fair, helpful or impartial – they are trying to WIN. So they benefit when you can’t understand the terms they use. And, in some ways, so does the court. If you don’t understand and don’t object, the court can move things along more smoothly (not so helpful for you, if you don’t have a lawyer).
Housing Court Supervisor
Staten Island Coordinator
NYCHA Bronx Assistant
Navigator Program Coordinator
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Goddard-Riverside Community Center
Legal Aid Society
Legal Aid Society
Marianne Brennick, Project Hospitality
Ted Finkelstein, NYC Commission on Human Rights
Shali Sharma, Bronx Works
Cathy Grad, Grad & Weinraub
Richard Munroe, Seaman’s Society for Children and Families
Lucy Newman, The Legal Aid Society
Sateesh Nori, The Legal Aid Society
Jennifer Vallone, University Settlement