Retired Housing Court judge comments on Judge Chinea’s positions
TO THE EDITOR:
I am writing with respect to your article “Housing Court judge pleads with Legislature for help with looming housing crisis” (8/24/20).
In the article, the president of the Housing Court Judges Association, Judge Chinea, discusses her position regarding the competing forces of the need to open the courts while at the same time seeking to protect the citizens it is dedicated to serve.
As a retired Housing Court judge, having served over two decades on the bench, I have lectured and written articles on relevant cases and major changes in the law since my retirement in 2011. Most recently, I wrote two articles pertaining to the reopening of the Housing Court since its closing on March 17, 2020, as a result of the current pandemic.
Prior to the formal Senate hearing, Judge Chinea submitted a written statement, which is now part of the record, setting forth the Association’s position on the reopening of the Housing Court which reads, in part, as follows:
“While tenants must establish hardship in order to avoid eviction, something which can be difficult for many (think of the housekeeper or day laborer); there is no reciprocal burden on the landlord to establish urgency or need. Without an equal burden, there is little incentive to negotiate.
“Our court is also about to consider whether to allow thousands of stayed warrants to execute in October 2020 during a pandemic, with a cold and flu season ramping up, and the probability of a second wave of the COVID19 virus upon us. Why? Is this the best we can do? Homelessness is out of control and getting worse. Our City shelters are full. The City is paying for the homeless to stay in hotels. Landlords can sue to evict without any incentive to amend on-going rent levels or to negotiate debt reductions. This is untenable. Our governmental objectives of preventing increased homelessness during a pandemic and the full resumption of court business are at loggerheads and are not reconcilable. As a result, Housing Court Judges are being ask to make impossible determinations in an impossible environment.”
This language gives the impression (intended or otherwise) that the author was more concerned with the impact the evictions will have on the tenants, ignoring the rights of the landlords because they have “little incentive” to take substantial losses on money that may be legally due and owing to them for their survival as well. Such statements imply that the Housing Court Association has a social and/or political agenda as to how cases should be determined rather than being prepared to make, what, no doubt, will be gut-wrenching decisions.
I was pleased to read that Judge Chinea chose not to focus on her previously prepared remarks at the hearing, but instead sought to balance the equities that both the landlords and tenants are confronted with during these unprecedented circumstances. Her questions as to “Who’s struggle shall I continue?” and “Whose should I alleviate at the pain of the other?” are a balanced approach to the immense problems that confront the judges of the Housing Court on a daily basis, pandemics notwithstanding.
Of utmost importance is that courts must always remain neutral and impartial arbiters of the disputes before them. Any statements, whether oral or written, by a member of the judiciary that is biased, or gives the perception of being biased, in favor of one side over another undermines our entire foundation of justice.
Housing Court is the busiest and most difficult court in the judicial system. The sheer volume of cases pre-COVID has now increased exponentially. In addition to some of the recommendations I made in my most recent article to assist in addressing this problem, I concur with Judge Chinea’s conclusion that the cases involving small landlords who “depend on their rental income to survive” should be prioritized. Naturally, the outcome of every case, individually, will be determined based on the admissible evidence and testimony presented to the court.
Hon. George M. Heymann
NYC Housing Court Judge (ret)
Hon. George M. Heymann is a retired judge who served in the Housing Court for more than 20 years and who is currently of counsel at Finz & Finz P.C. and an adjunct professor of law at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.
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