NYC Housing Court begins virtual conferences on pending eviction matters
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently extended the eviction moratorium to Aug. 20, but the court system announced this week that it has begun scheduling and conducting virtual conferences on pending eviction cases that were filed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the courts.
“This is an important step forward, as we work, in today’s highly challenging environment, to facilitate the resolution of these critical Housing Court matters and promote a fair process for all litigants,” said Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks.
Judges are being encouraged to help landlords and tenants reach settlements in order to reduce pending caseloads as the court system expects a huge influx of new eviction cases once the moratorium is lifted.
Upstate courthouses have begun opening in the counties that have reached Gov. Cuomo’s safety benchmarks. New York City has only reached three of those seven benchmarks and lawyers who work in the Brooklyn Housing Court have expressed disbelief that the courthouse is capable of social distancing. At least one said that there is a possibility that it will not be able to open safely in 2020 at all.
“Brooklyn is not going to open for at least January if we’re being realistic. It’s not opening in June. It’s not opening in September,” said Domenick Napoletano, treasurer of the NYS Bar Association, who said social distancing is not possible inside the 141 Livingston St. court house.
Attorney Scott Miller said, “I think if we see 141 Livingston Street open before the end of the year it will be a miracle.”
The NYC Housing Court has nearly 240,000 new filings annually and is one of the busiest courts of its kind in the country so leaving it closed for the rest of the year seems unlikely to many.
Michael Rosenthal, president of the Kings County Housing Court Bar Association, said that supervising and administrative judges were considering different locations as alternatives to 141 Livingston Street, but that there was nothing to report to members at the monthly meeting held at the beginning of May.
At the meeting, Rosenthal suggested that the court may begin virtual hearings when both parties are represented by attorneys. “There is no other way to cut out the amount of people that are in that court,” Rosenthal said.
The Housing Court remained open virtually throughout the pandemic, but only heard essential and emergency cases such as illegal lockouts and emergency repairs. In April, operations expanded to include non-essential matters so that judges could issue written decisions on old motions in bench trials that had begun prior to the pandemic.
Since Monday, the Housing Court will now hold virtual conferences presided over by judges in an effort to reach settlements without a jury trial or additional litigation. Lawyers who represent tenants point out that many local programs that are designed to keep people in their homes are struggling financially and may not be able to help Brooklynites.
The court system reported that by Tuesday hundreds of settlement conferences have already been requested or scheduled in New York City. Consent from both parties is preferred, but they will be granted to any party who seeks one granted both sides are represented.