What is a nonpayment case?
A nonpayment case is filed by a landlord against you when he or she claims that you owe rent. The landlord is asking the court to order you to pay rent or to evict you if you cannot pay rent. You have the right to dispute this claim in court and present evidence. A nonpayment case in Housing Court does not necessarily mean that you must leave the apartment. If you have the money for the rent, the landlord must accept it.
How does a landlord start a nonpayment case?
A landlord must first demand the rent from you either orally or in writing. After demanding the rent, the landlord can file papers in court to start a nonpayment case. These papers are called a “notice of petition” and “petition.” After the papers are filed in court, they will be served on you and the court will mail a postcard letting you know that a case was filed.
How will I get court papers?
Court papers must be served by someone who is over 18 and who is not part of the case. They must be served on you by personal service, substitute service, or conspicuous service. Personal service means the court papers are handed to you. Substitute service means the papers are handed to an adult who lives or works in your home and mailed to you by certified and regular mail. Conspicuous service means the papers are either taped to or slid under your door and mailed to you by certified and regular mail.
What should I do when I receive the petition?
After you receive the petition, you have 5 days to answer in Housing Court. You answer the papers by telling the clerk your reasons or defenses why you do not owe or did not pay some or all of the rent. At court, the clerk will write your defenses on a form and give you a copy. This form will have the date, time, and room number of your court date which will usually be about a week later. Check the answer form to make sure that all of your defenses are marked before you leave the window.
What if I cannot answer the petition?
The court will only accept an answer from a person named in the petition or a person who is living in the apartment. The court will not take an answer from anyone who does not live in the apartment. If it is impossible for you to go to court, there are special procedures that you may follow to answer your petition in writing. Speak with a housing court clerk for more information.
What is a defense?
A defense is a reason why the landlord should not get some or all of the rent that he or she claims you owe. When you answer your petition, tell the clerk all of the defenses that apply to your case. Be aware that some defenses are difficult to prove without a lawyer. The following may be defenses in your case.
• You did not receive the court papers.
• The court papers were not served on you the right way.
• Your name is not on the court papers or it is not spelled correctly.
• The person or company bringing you to court is not the landlord or the owner of the building. If you are not sure who the owner of the building is, you can call 311 or go to HPD online.
• The landlord did not demand the rent from you either orally or in writing before he began the case.
• You tried to pay the rent but the landlord would not take it.
• The rent that the landlord is asking for in the petition is not the correct amount.
• The landlord owes you money because you paid too much rent.
• You have already paid some or all of the rent.
• The landlord did not make repairs or provide services in your apartment or building.
• The apartment or building does not have a proper Certificate of Occupancy or Multiple Dwelling Registration.
• Your landlord is suing you for rent from a long time ago; the landlord never asked you to pay it before; and by waiting so long to sue you, you will have difficulty proving your case or paying the back rent due. This is called “laches”.
• You paid for repairs or services that your landlord should have paid for.
• Your belongings were damaged because the landlord failed to provide services or repairs.
• You are dependent on someone in the military.
How do I prepare for my court date?
Before you go to court, you should get your papers in order. You should gather your receipts and make sure the landlord gave you credit for all of the payments that you made. Also find any documents from public assistance, Section 8 or any other program that is helping you pay your rent and make sure that the program is paying your rent and that the payments have been credited. You should also prepare any documents that prove any of the defenses you claimed in your answer. If you have made complaints about violations in your apartment to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), you should bring your violation report as well as photos or other proof of the violations. Be sure to make copies of your documents so that you can give them to the court if necessary.
Also, if you have to make any payments you can bring them with you either as a money order or bank check to pay on your court date.
What will happen on my court date?
On your court date, be sure to arrive early so that you have time to go through the metal detectors and be in your court room on time. Go to your assigned court room. Depending on the borough, you will either need to check in with the clerk or sit and wait to be called. If you are not ready to proceed with the case at this time, you may ask the court for a new court date, an adjournment, so that you have a chance to gather documents or get advice from a lawyer. At this time, you can also ask for a court ordered inspection of your apartment.
If you choose to proceed, you will be assigned to a resolution part where you and the landlord or the landlord’s lawyer will try to come to an agreement to resolve the case. For example, you might agree to a payment plan for the rent that is owed. If this agreement is written down, it is called a stipulation. The stipulation may also include deadlines for the landlord to make repairs or provide services. Be aware of what you say to the landlord’s lawyer—he or she is there for the landlord and is not there to help you or look out for what is best for you.
Don’t sign the stipulation unless you understand what it says and agree to it. Before you sign the stipulation, you can have it explained to you by your lawyer, the court lawyer, or a housing advocate. If you make a stipulation with the landlord or landlord’s lawyer, the judge should read it to you and ask you if you understand it. You can ask the judge questions about your stipulation and about any consequences it may have. After you tell the judge that you understand and agree to the stipulation, he or she will sign it and give you and the landlord each a copy.
If you cannot come to an agreement with the landlord or landlord’s lawyer, you can ask for a conference. This means that the court lawyer will sit with you and the landlord or landlord’s lawyer to help you come to an agreement, and make sure that both sides are being heard. The court lawyer is not there to represent you.
What if I don’t agree to a stipulation?
If you don’t agree to a stipulation, you can also ask for a trial with a judge. A trial may be scheduled for a different date or it may be heard on the same day. If you lose your trial, the judge may order you to pay all of the rent that you owe in 5 days. There may be other consequences to a trial, and you should speak with a lawyer or housing advocate before you request a trial.
What happens next?
You will leave court with either an agreement called a stipulation or an order from the judge. It will probably have a deadline to do something. It may order you to make a payment or trace a money order or find some further documentation from a city agency. It may also order the landlord to make repairs or provide services.
What if I can’t pay on time according to the stipulation?
It is important to try to keep to the deadline in the stipulation or court order. If you cannot, you may not be able to get more time from the court. However, if you are unable to pay the money by that deadline, you need to go back to court to see if the court will give you more time. If you do not get more time, you may receive a marshal’s notice and you may be evicted. The only way to stop the eviction is to go to court and ask for more time.
To ask the court for more time, fill out an order to show cause (OSC) at the clerk’s office. Filing an OSC means you are asking the court for a hearing about your case for some reason.
What happens if I pay everything by the deadline?
If you pay what you owe, the case is over. Be aware that the rent for the current month may also be due but may not be included in your stipulation. If there is a judgment against you, this can affect your credit rating, even if you pay.
If you pay all the money that you owed and the stip said that the judgment would be vacated upon payment, you can file an OSC and ask that the judgment be vacated.
What if the landlord doesn’t make repairs according to the stip?
To ask the court to order the landlord to make the repairs he or she agreed to make, you will need to file an OSC.