Brooklyn Boro

NYC courts will enter Phase Two on Wednesday

Housing Court accepting petitions, but proceedings stayed

June 23, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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New York City officially entered Phase Two of the COVID-19 reopening plan on Monday, and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced that day that the City’s court system will do the same on Wednesday.

“In New York City, our judges and professional staff have been back at work in their assigned courthouses since June 10, coinciding with the City’s entry into Phase One of economic reopening, and all has been going well,” Chief Judge DiFiore said.

“As of [Monday], New York City has officially entered Phase Two of reopening, and our courts in the city will follow suit this Wednesday, June 24,” DiFiore continued. “While there will be a measured increase in courthouse activity and staffing under Phase Two, the vast majority of non-essential matters will continue to be heard virtually.”

While many people will be lining up this week to get a haircut or to eat outdoors, the courts will experience no huge changes. Most will see only a modest amount of employees return in person, while many cases are still being conducted virtually.

One of the biggest changes will take place in the Housing Court. Up until June 20, the Housing Courts have had a full eviction moratorium. Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended that moratorium until Aug. 20. However, after June 20 tenants have to prove that they are unable to pay rent due to economic issues brought about because of the pandemic.

This is coupled with the fact that housing courts in New York City, particularly Brooklyn’s Housing Court located at 141 Livingston St., are notoriously cramped and crowded. As a result, Chief Judge DiFiore announced additional changes to those courts.

While the courts are accepting commencement documents in eviction proceedings, they must be filed through the courts’ e-filing website or mailed in. The courts will not accept filings in person.

Two additional documents are required to be attached to any filings — the first is an affirmation from the petitioner stating they have reviewed all state and federal restrictions on commencing new eviction proceedings in good faith, and the second is a document advising tenants that they may be eligible for an extension in time to respond to petitions, with phone numbers and links directing them to help.

Chief Judge DiFiore added that whether or not an answer is filed by the tenant that proceedings will be, “stayed until further notice, consistent with the Governor’s executive orders that are still in place suspending the timetables for prosecution of legal matters.”

Eviction proceedings filed prior to March 16, where both the landlord and the tenant are represented by lawyers, are eligible to be calendared. This encourages a settlement, and the court will not allow such conferences to end in evictions for the time being.

On Monday, members of the groups Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Housing Justice For All; tenants from the Flatbush Tenant Coalition and the Crown Heights Tenant Union; as well as other legal aid groups marched in front of Housing Courts across the state. The biggest rally took place in front of 141 Livingston St. The groups called for no evictions for the rest of the year.

“Many low-income tenants, especially in communities of color, have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and likely won’t be able to pay rent any time soon,” said a statement issued by a spokesperson for the Flatbush Tenant Coalition. “So tenant advocates will also call on Cuomo to #CancelRent for the duration of the pandemic, since many unemployed tenants have no way to pay back rent they owe from recent months or future rent for the rest of 2020.”

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