The Court Process for Tenants

This general court process information applies to tenants being brought to court for a nonpayment or holdover case.

Can I get help?
Yes! There are many different types of help that might be available. Start seeking help early in your case so that you can be prepared at each step of the process. There are websites, hotlines, and informational brochures that can be very helpful. There are charities that help pay back rent. The city and the public assistance office provide some help. The Housing Court Help Centers offer lawyers that can answer legal questions. There are organizations that provide free legal representation and community organizations that can inform and assist tenants. There is help available. Get help early and often in your case. Call Housing Court Answers’ hotline to get information and referrals to services.

How do I know when and where to go in court?
In a nonpayment case you will get a date when you answer the petition with the clerk in Housing Court. After you tell the clerk your defenses, he or she will give you a copy of your answer form, which will have the date, time, and room number of your court appearance.
In a holdover case the notice of petition will have the date, time, and room number of your court appearance.

What do I do when I get to court?
If there is a list on the wall outside the courtroom, look for your name, then go inside the courtroom. Each borough has a different check-in procedure. In some boroughs you will need to go to the desk and tell the clerk that you are there. In other boroughs you will have to sit and wait for the clerk to call your name. In many courtrooms, the landlord’s lawyer will approach you about the case. You may choose to speak with the landlord or landlord’s lawyer, or not: you do not have to talk to the landlord or the landlord’s lawyer. You can ask for a conference to discuss the case in front of the court attorney. Remember that the court attorney is there to make sure that both sides have a chance to speak, but is not there to be your lawyer and will not represent you. You can also ask to speak with the judge.

What will happen on my first court date?
Cases are first assigned to a resolution part. The court encourages both sides to try to resolve the case by coming to a written agreement, called a stipulation. If your landlord has a lawyer and you don’t, you will be at a disadvantage. The landlord’s lawyer might ask you to go into the hall to work out an agreement; you can choose to negotiate the stipulation in the hall with the landlord’s lawyer or in a private conference with the court attorney. Ask the judge or the court attorney for help if you are uncomfortable talking to the landlord’s lawyer alone. It is important that you tell the judge or court attorney all of the facts about your case, including your defenses and counterclaims. Although you may already have told the clerk when you answered, you must say all of them again during the court case. If you do not say all of your defenses and counterclaims again, they will not be addressed by the court and included in the stipulation.

What if I need to change or postpone my court date?
If you realize that you cannot be in court on your assigned court date, go to the Housing Court and speak with the court attorney in the Help Center.
If you are available on your court date but need more time to prepare your case or to get legal assistance, you may want to ask the judge for an adjournment. Getting an adjournment means that your hearing will be rescheduled. You can ask for an adjournment when you appear for your assigned court date.

Should I sign a stipulation?
You are the one who must decide whether or not to sign the stipulation. Before you decide, make sure that you understand everything it says. A stipulation is a binding agreement, like a contract, and it cannot easily be changed.

What happens after I sign a stipulation?
If you sign a stipulation, the judge will go over it with you and you can ask questions. You should ask questions about anything that you do not understand or are concerned about. This process is called allocution and is required by law. After you have asked all of your questions, the judge will sign the stipulation and you will get a copy.

What if I can’t make an agreement with the landlord’s lawyer?
If you cannot reach an agreement with the assistance of the judge, your case will be transferred to the trial part. Your trial may take place on the same day, or it may be scheduled for a new date.

What happens in a trial?
In a trial, both parties are expected to present their side of the case. Before you go to a trial, you should get more information about the process from the court attorney in the Help Center.
The landlord’s lawyer will speak first and present his or her case. The landlord is required to prove several facts about the case. When the landlord finishes presenting his or her case, it will then be your turn to present your case. While each side is presenting its case, the other side can ask questions about (cross examine) information being presented. Each side can present witnesses or documents to support its position. Each side can also subpoena documents or people with information about the case.

What is a subpoena and how do I file it?
A subpoena is an order from the court for a person or agency to be in court or present documents. You may need a subpoena to get records from Section 8 or another government agency. If you need to subpoena someone or some information to prove your case, ask the court attorney or the judge to help.

What is the landlord required to prove in a trial?
Some of the things that must be proved are:

  • That he or she is the owner of the building. This can be proven by showing a copy of the deed or proof of appointment as receiver or estate executor.
  • That a landlord-tenant relationship exists or existed. The landlord proves this by presenting a lease, or testifying that an oral understanding between the landlord and you exists, or that this relationship was ended.
  • A valid multiple dwelling registration, if the building has 3 or more apartments.
  • If the apartment is rent stabilized, that there is a current registration with the department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR).
  • That the rent claimed is the legal or the agreed-upon rent.
  • That the landlord issued the proper demands and notices before beginning the case.
  • That the tenant did not pay the rent or correct the problem addressed in the notice.

  What facts can I present in a trial?

  •  The landlord did not repair conditions in your apartment after you notified him or her. You will need to show proof that you notified the landlord and that there are conditions in your apartment that need to be repaired; this can be testimony, photos, inspection reports, or other proof.
  • That you do not owe the money claimed by the landlord. You can show rent receipts, public assistance breakdowns, or other proof of payment.
  • The rent is not the legal or agreed-upon rent. You can present a certified copy of the DHCR printout that shows the legal regulated rent if you live in a rent-stabilized apartment.
  • Any other defenses that you have in the case. 

In a holdover case, that you did not violate the lease.

In a nonpayment case, the judge will generally not consider your personal financial problems, like losing a job or illness, as a legal defense to the landlord’s claim for rent arrears.

What happens after a trial?
After both sides present their case, the judge will make a decision. If the judge finds that you owe money to the landlord, the judge will enter a final judgment for that amount. If you made a claim that your landlord failed to make repairs and the judge agrees with you, you can request an abatement, a reduction in the amount of rent due. You will generally be required to pay the judgment within 5 days of the judge’s decision. If the judge finds that you do not have the right to stay in the apartment or you violated the lease in a serious way, you will be given a deadline for moving out of the apartment.

Who will I see in the courtroom and what do they do?
There are several court employees that work in the courtroom. All court employees, except the judge, wear badges that identify them as court employees.

  • the judge is the one who will make the rules for the courtroom. He or she will oversee the proceedings and will make the final decision in the case.
  • the court attorney works for the judge. He or she will mediate cases and explain the law and how it affects your case.
  • the clerk is the person who keeps the paperwork in order. He or she will organize the files and call the calendar.
  • the court officers are in charge of maintaining order in the courtroom and will enforce the rules of the judge. They wear uniforms.
  • the interpreter is a person that the court will provide for you at your request to repeat in your language what the court employees or landlord or landlord’s lawyer are saying to you and will repeat in English what you are saying to them.

How will a judgment affect my credit?

Most stipulations signed by tenants without lawyers include judgments. Judgments usually show up on credit reports and affect an individual’s ability to rent a new apartment or secure a loan. They can also result in paying higher interest rates for credit cards or student or car loans and in higher insurance premiums. If possible, avoid agreeing to a judgment in your stipulation. However, this may be difficult if you owe the money and need time to pay. If you cannot get a stipulation without a judgment, try to get the following language included: Upon payment, judgment will be vacated. If this phrase is included, it should help you get a judgment removed from a credit report if the money promised in the stipulation is paid.