Brooklyn Housing Court backlogs ignite potential legal showdown

June 2, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In the last meeting of the Kings County Housing Court Bar Association before summer break, grievances were aired over significant delays in housing court cases. Many members pointed fingers at the landlord-tenant mediation pilot program running in Brooklyn, citing it as a major contributor to the backlog of cases and a potential violation of statutory return dates.

Michael Rosenthal, president of the association, expressed frustration over return dates being set three months after the day of filing, explicitly violating the statute, as well as additional delays such as those in obtaining warrants and adjournments. Rosenthal hinted that the association might consider suing the court system over these issues.

“The initial return date for non-payments and holdovers is about three months after the day of filing, and that violates the statute,” Rosenthal said. “There are a lot of other delays that we are unhappy about like, how long it takes to get a warrant, or how long to get an adjournment, but getting a return date longer than 10 days out explicitly violates the statute. It may be something that we have to sue the court about.”

While the housing court is set to see an influx of about 20 new court attorneys in the coming weeks, Rosenthal expressed concern that the current hiring limitations across the court system, especially in regard to court officers and court clerks, still present a significant hurdle.

Members of the association, including Michele Slochowsky Hering and Jeff Saltiel, lamented the underutilization of courtrooms and lack of response from administrative judges. They proposed escalating the issue to higher-level judges, and even including the incoming president-elect of the New York State Bar Association, Dom Napoletano, in future meetings.

“We need to do what we can to get him into meetings so that at least he knows what’s going on,” Saltiel said. “Judges from every level on up are not doing anything to get things done in the court.”

The Pilot Program, designed to mediate rent-related issues outside the housing court system and provide housing security to tenants, came under intense scrutiny. Rosenthal criticized the program for consuming valuable court resources, arguing that it effectively reduced the number of cases heard daily.

In the face of these challenges, some members suggested mobilizing clients to push for faster case resolution. Yet, the high turnover of less experienced employees within the Housing Court due to COVID and budget cuts compound the issue.

The association is now contemplating legal action, even considering funding a case brought by a few clients. A meeting has been arranged for June 14th involving Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Debora Kaplan, Supervising Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo, and Citywide Supervising Judge of the Housing Part of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Judge Jack Stoller, to further discuss these pressing issues.

The association voiced hope for greater engagement from Judge Walker-Diallo, who has attended only two meetings since becoming supervising judge. Meanwhile, members like James Kasdon pointed out the urgent need for expedited high-value cases.

While no definitive resolution was reached at the meeting, the association remains committed to finding a solution to these delays, and it left open the possibility of having emergency meetings over Zoom during the summer months.

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