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Housing Court judge pleads with Legislature for help with looming housing crisis

August 24, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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New York City Housing Court Judge Daniele Chinea had a prepared speech ready to present to the state senators on Friday during a hearing on the reopening of the court system during a pandemic, but she decided not to use them because she was afraid her point might not get across. Judge Chinea was determined to make clear that there is a looming crisis coming to the housing courts in New York City and 50 judges are not going to be enough to solve it.

“We are 50 people,” Judge Chinea said. “We are facing 14,500 open warrants, 200,000 pre-pandemic cases that have not been heard, one in five tenants have not paid rent for April through June. That could be over one million people. We are at a maximum capacity of 10 Skype appearances per day per judge. The math is unassailable. 50 housing court judges cannot solve this problem for new Yorkers.”

Judge Chinea, who is the president of the Housing Court Judges Association, said that she was there to officially request for a coordinated response to the “tragedy in housing that is affecting us all.”

“The pandemic is ongoing with no end in sight and the economic impacts are only beginning to be felt, and will continue for years to come. And yet we, the housing court judges, are being asked to conduct business as usual in terms of applying the law and exercising our discretion,” Judge Chinea said.

The judge explained that there are so many tenants out of jobs that they are unable to pay rent, but that doesn’t absolve any debts landlords are dealing with. She explained that in the past there were systems in place to deal with such issues, but without safety nets there is no actual justice being done during many trials.

“For instance, a landlord seeks a motion to execute an active warrant currently stayed … the tenant agreed to a debt and agreed to be evicted if they don’t pay … so now they owe several months’ rent with no plan to pay ongoing rent while the landlord is faced with mounting debt and no clear or documentable way of paying it,” Judge Chinea said.

“As a judge, how can I weigh this personal tragedy against an ever mounting unsecured debt obligation being enforced upon the landlord? Without a coordinated plan how can I assure the landlord that they will ever get their money? On what legal basis do I require the landlord to continue to accept these losses? Whose struggle shall I continue? Whose should I alleviate at the pain of the other?”

Judge Chinea explained that she wasn’t there to advocate for specific bills, but merely to explain the situation that she and the judges in her association are seeing on a daily basis.

One suggestion she had for the Legislature was to prioritize cases based upon landlord need. She explained that tenants are being asked how COVID-19 impacted them, and that legislators should be sure to inquire about the well-being of landlords as well.

“There are definitely landlords, smaller landlords who one two-family, or four-family houses who really depend on their rental income to survive and pay their mortgage. Those types of people should rise to the top in terms of how we deal with this,” Judge Chinea said. “We also know that after the 2008 foreclosure crisis that many landlords are now corporate … In order to better prioritize our time and our efforts it would be beneficial for the landlords to show their need and their urgency.”

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