Going to Housing Court for the first time can be scary for tenants. Most often, tenants get taken to Housing Court because their landlord is suing them for eviction – either in a nonpayment proceeding (for back rent the landlord claims is owed) or to recover the apartment in a holdover proceeding. Whenever possible, tenants should get legal advice from a lawyer. When that’s not possible, use these resources to help prepare for going to Housing Court:
Overview of Housing Court
Housing Court procedures can be confusing for the average person. If you are being sued by your landlord for not paying the rent, or if you are suing your landlord for not making repairs, take a look at our information sheets to get a basic understanding of the process. See below for information on the different procedures.
The Housing Court website provides basic information about the procedures and forms you will see in court.
The Housing Court provides useful information and help for tenants without lawyers. Each Housing Court has a Help Center with public access computers, helpful booklets, information sheets and attorneys who work for the court. Tenants can sign up to see a “pro se attorney.” These attorneys will not represent you, but can provide you with legal information about your case. The courts provide computers for completing Do It Yourself legal forms (see below). In addition, free legal service providers and the Human Resources Administration (public assistance) have offices in the courts.
The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services – NYC These two free legal service providers have offices in some of the Housing Courts and provide assistance to people who sign up early. There are also community-based legal service providers. To find an office which serves your neighborhood go to Lawhelp
The Legal Aid Society provides information to tenants without attorneys on their websites.
The Housing Court website provides information for people without lawyers as well as locations, hours and directions.
The Housing Court also provides a computer program that you can use online or in the court to help you with information that you will need to file an answer to your nonpayment or file an Order to Show Cause to vacate a default judgment.
12 Things You Should Know – Read our list of 12 things that every pro se litigant has the right to in HousingCourt.
Nonpayment Proceedings – Getting sued for back rent
Most cases in Housing Court are brought by landlords against tenants for nonpayment of rent. The law requires landlords to first demand the rent – in writing or orally. Tenants should then receive the papers used to start the case in court from a process server – the petition and notice of petition (some tenants never receive those papers). Once you have received the petition, you have five days to go to the court and file your “answer.” You can tell the court your defenses and you will be given a date to come back to court for a hearing. (There are a few circumstances where you may choose NOT to answer.For more information, see our page on blacklisting.) On your hearing date you will either settle your case with the landlord or go to trial. For more information on the settlement process, read over our guide to negotiating with your landlord in Housing Court. For more details, see our full page on nonpayments.
Rent Arrears Assistance
The Human Resources Administration has staff in most of the city’s Housing Courts. Here, or at your local job center, tenants can start an application for rent arrears assistance, find the status of a previous application, or get a printout of benefits that were already paid to the landlord. Tenants can also call our Hotline for a referral to a charity that might be able to help. To qualify for rent arrears assistance, tenants must have three things: a case in housing court or at least a rent demand from their landlord, a good reason for falling behind on the rent, and the ability to pay the rent in the future. Also keep in mind that a tenant must have manageable arrears (not too high).
This is a court action in which your landlord is demanding possession of the apartment and wants to evict you. If you live in a private house, co-op or condo apartment and you do not have a lease the landlord does not have to have a reason for wanting you out of the apartment. If you live in a rent regulated apartment (rent control or rent stabilized) or subsidized, OR if you have a lease, the landlord must have a good reason for wanting you out in order to succeed in a holdover case. A holdover proceeding can be brought against a tenant even if the tenant has paid the rent. See our full page on holdovers for tenants.
This is a court case that you, a tenant, or a group of tenants, or the city, can bring against a landlord for not maintaining the building. You can start a case when the landlord is not providing services to you or to the building (such as heat, hot water, locked doors, extermination, or cleaning), or not making repairs in your apartment or in the common areas of the building.
Complain about the Court
If you believe you were mistreated, or treated unfairly, in Housing Court by the judge, court officer, court attorney, interpreter or other court personnel, please use our Housing Court Comment form. If you complete this form, we will forward the complaint to the Supervising Judge of the court, and to the Housing Court Advisory Council.
Tenant Screening Reports (aka Blacklist)
Tenants, who are named in holdover and nonpayment cases as respondents, where the case was calendared, end up on what is called the “tenant blacklist.” The Office of Court Administration sells Housing Court data to tenant screening companies. These companies use this data to make lists of tenants that landlords should consider not renting to because of Housing Court history. If your name is in one of these databases, it can be very difficult to find a new apartment in New York City, and in other cities across the country. For more information, go to our page on this topic.