Housing Court Is Reopening, But Don’t Expect Business As Usual For A Long Time
Like other New York courthouses during the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City Civil Court, which includes Housing Court, closed for all but emergency matters as of March 23, 2020 (Directives and Procedures (“DRP”) -207). The Governor placed a moratorium on all evictions through June 20, 2020, and for those affected by the coronavirus, until August 20, 2020, for evictions based on nonpayment of rent. These measures were previously reported in GDB’S blog dated May 22, 2020, entitled “When Are NYC Courts Fully Opening For Business?” However, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence J. Marks has yet to rescind his “no evictions until further notice” mandate issued on March 16, 2020 (Administrative Order 68/20).
* For an update, please read Housing Court Trials are Resuming in Brooklyn (7/30/20)
Even though evictions are still not permitted, new filings will be permitted beginning June 22, 2020, albeit in person only and upon paying filing fees. There are currently no limits on the number of new proceedings that can be filed at one time, though that may change as the situation evolves. Those inclined to start new cases should expect long lines due to restrictions on the number of people allowed inside. Answers to petitions/complaints by unrepresented litigants will be taken by telephone by experienced Court clerks, instead of having respondents come to court to complete the paperwork. Courts are also deploying experienced clerks to the front of courthouses to direct and assist visitors and to provide information and answer questions, which may avert appearances.
No defaults may be taken on any kind of case for any reason until further notice. (DRP-205)
In newly filed cases, all first appearances will be done virtually via Skype for Business. Courts are making arrangements to enable unrepresented parties to have access to computer terminals so they can attend virtual conferences. After the first conference, cases will be adjourned for a substantial period of time. In-person conferences will not be scheduled until Phase 3 of the City’s reopening.
New Summary Proceedings
New summary proceedings for nonpayment of rent must include an affidavit by a person with knowledge of the facts, stating that the landlord “has made a good faith effort to ascertain whether the respondent is a person eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law or otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the respondent is not such a person.” The affidavit must state the facts upon which the conclusion is based and whether or not the person is protected by the CARES Act.
New summary proceedings for holdover cases do not need to include this affidavit. The return date in a Notice of Holdover Petition should be left blank, which Court clerks will assign and complete. Those return dates will be well into Phase 2, and in-person appearances will, for the most part, not take place until Phase 3.
Pending cases where all parties are represented by counsel will be scheduled first. The parties in cases that had appearance dates during the Court closure will be notified by mail of new appearance dates. Cases involving unrepresented litigants will be the last to be scheduled. No trials will be held until Phase 3 and will be done in person.
When the Housing Court was closed, DRP-206 provided that no warrant of eviction could be issued, and judges were prohibited from awarding a judgment of possession. Landlords may now make an application to the Clerk of the Court or a motion before the assigned judge to request the entry of a possessory judgment in the landlord’s favor. In cases where a stipulation of settlement was reached between attorneys and includes granting a judgment of possession, those judgments will be issued beginning June 22, 2020.
Provided that a warrant request is not based on a default, warrant requests may be submitted beginning June 22, 2020. Any requests made prior to March 16, 2020, must be re-made, as the mandatory non-military affidavit is now stale. However, no warrants will be executed until Administrative Order 68/20 is rescinded or modified. A landlord seeking to enforce a warrant of eviction which was issued before March 20, 2020, based on nonpayment of rent, must file a motion on notice seeking permission of the Court to do so (DRP-211).
Gone are the days of crowded, noisy hallways and packed courtrooms. The Housing Court is moving into the age of technology. On the horizon is electronic filing through the New York State Courts Electronic Filing (“NYSCEF”) system and the use of Microsoft Teams for virtual appearances. While there will initially be long delays and possible glitches to be overcome, landlords and tenants alike will be able to have their cases heard within a reasonable time.
As always, we are here to help you navigate through the changing procedures and policies.