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A-Z of Common Housing Court Terms

BronxInk reporters came across a lot of housing jargon and legal-speak over the course of our reporting on the New York City housing system. We’ve put some of the most common terms in the glossary below.

Abatement: if a landlord fails to provide repairs to an apartment and a tenant then withholds rent resulting in a nonpayment case, a judge can order the tenant to pay a lower amount of back rent.

Adjournment: the temporary postponement of a hearing.

Affidavit: a sworn statement, made either in writing or spoken and notarized. 

Alternative Enforcement Program: once a year, HPD selects severely distressed, multiple-unit dwellings for participation in this program, which requires landlords fix problems that HPD deems serious within a certain time period, or else face fines. Also known as the “Babysitting Program.”

Arrears: unpaid back rent.

Blacklist: an unofficial, illicit list detailing tenants who have been sued in court, which landlords take as an indicator of unreliability. Private companies compile lists from court records and provide them to landlords looking to screen potential future tenants. To be removed from a list, individuals first have to figure out if they’re on one — often only possible by requesting the data held by multiple firms. Getting your name removed is difficult, since the lists are based on public records.

Back rent: rent owed from an earlier date. Also known as rent arrears.

CityFEPS: a previous rental assistance program that started in 2014, but has since been incorporated into the new CityFHEPS program. It previously provided one-time emergency payments on outstanding back rent, and provided a monthly subsidy to tenants depending on how many children a receiving family had.

CityFHEPS: a new program combining the former CityFEPS, LINC and SPES programs, CityFHEPS began on April 1, 2019. It aims to “help individuals and families find and keep housing” according to the city, and should expand the number of people that qualify for the programs while lifting the administrative burden of running three programs simultaneously.

Claim: a demand made in court to help enforce the law, for money or property.

Clerk: a court employee who is responsible for organizing relevant documents and files in court.

Complaint: this is the first document filed to the court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another, e.g. a landlord alleging a tenant failed to pay rent, or a tenant alleging the property violates the NYC Housing Maintenance Code.

Complainant: the party who files a complaint with the court.

ConEdison: a utility company providing electricity, gas and steam to NYC and Westchester County.

Conference: a negotiation between a tenant, a landlord and an attorney or judge in an attempt to settle a case, rather than bring it to trial.

Contempt of court: disobedience of the order dictated by the court.

Counterclaim: defendants can file a claim against a plaintiff in a case, sometimes used as a legal strategy by defendant attorneys.

Court attorney: an attorney who works closely with a judge for the court, rather than for either party in a case.

Court reporter: court employee responsible for transcribing the proceedings in the courtroom.

CPLR: Civil Practice Law and Rules. This is New York state statute, which dictates a lawsuit’s proceedings.

Default: when one party fails to appear for court proceedings, resulting in a default judgement.

Default judgement: a judgement in favor of the plaintiff is brought in a case after one party fails to submit relevant paperwork or appear in court before a given deadline.

Defense: the party against whom a complaint is filed.

Dismissed with prejudice: Legal actions that are dismissed based on elements that mean the same case cannot be brought without new evidence.

Dismissed without prejudice: legal actions brought forward are dismissed, but not based on the validity of elements presented in a way that would prevent the same case from being brought forward again.

Eviction: when someone is expelled from the property they live in, based on legal arguments.

FEPS: Family Eviction Prevention Supplement. A program run by the city that pays back rent and grants a shelter allowance for families on public assistance with children under the age of 18. Not the same as CityFHEPS.

Group HP Action: A legal action taken by a group rather than an individual, within the context of Housing Part, the courtroom reserved for tenants suing landlords for repairs.

Harassment: when a landlord behaves in a way intended to make a tenant feel uncomfortable enough to move out of the property they are renting.

Heat season: from Oct. 1 to May 31, owners of residential properties are legally required to keep their properties heated to a minimum temperature of 68 F in the daytime and 62 F at night.

Holdover case: when a landlord wants to evict a tenant for reasons other than nonpayment of rent. Lawsuits brought by landlords either fall into the categories of nonpayment or holdover.

Housing Court Answers: a nonprofit designed to help tenants without legal representation navigate their cases in the housing court system. The organization does work in all five boroughs, but its Bronx desk is in the lobby of Bronx Housing Court.

HP: Housing Part, which refers to the section of housing court that deals with nonpayment and holdover cases.

HP Action: Legal proceedings related to, but not always taking place within, housing court. HP actions are brought against a landlord for repairs or harassment.

HPD: Department of Housing Preservation and Development. This is the city agency responsible for developing and maintaining affordable housing across NYC.

HPD Online: An online data portal provided by HPD offering building data, information on building complaints and violations, litigation, property registration data, and information on blocks and lots.

HP Proceeding: actions taken in housing court to settle matters of housing law.

HRA: Human Resources Administration. This is a department run by the city, which provides tenant assistance programs with federal assistance from HUD. Services for eligible tenants include legal aid. The agency’s office is on the second floor of Bronx Housing Court.

HRA rental stipends: families in shelters may be eligible to participate in HRA’s Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) Program, which will pay up to 30% of an adjusted income toward rent for an apartment that meets the program’s standards. It’s a lottery-based system, with payments made in the form of coupons.

Illegal eviction: when someone who has resided in a property for more than 30 days or has signed a lease is evicted by anyone other than a sheriff or a marshal.

Illegal lockout: when a tenant is unlawfully locked out of their apartment by their landlord, through an action such as changing the locks without a court order. 

Inspection: a visit to a property to examine violations of housing code made by a city or court employee. The visit will result in an inspection note, which is evidence of the property’s conditions. Landlords may be billed by HPD for fees related to the service.

Judgement: a decision ordered by a judge defining the outcome of a case, e.g. a tenant must pay owed rent or move out.

Laches: a defense in nonpayment cases, this is when lawyers allege that tenants are being asked to pay rent from a long time ago, which they have never been asked to before. This debt is sometimes known as “stale rent,” which is difficult for landlords to prove they are owed because of their delay in taking the case to court.

Landlord: the property’s owner.

Legal Aid: assistance provided to people who cannot afford their own legal representation. In the Bronx Housing Court, the legal aid office can only take on seven cases a day.

Legal Services NYC: a nonprofit providing free civil legal assistance to low-income state residents.

Levy: the final stage in collection proceedings, where a sheriff or marshal is collecting assets or property as repayment ordered by a judge.

Lien: the right of the landlord to keep property or possessions as a fulfillment of debt obligation.

LINC: Living in Communities was a previous rental assistance program run by the city aimed at helping families move out of shelters and into stable homes. It has now been incorporated into CITYFHEPS.

Marshal: Similar to a sheriff, a marshal is an officer whose duty is to enforce the process of the courts. Marshals are appointed by the mayor, but are not city employees.

Mold: a fungal growth that occurs in moist or damp spaces. Within housing, mold can cause health problems such as weakened immune systems and respiratory illnesses. Certain types such as Stachybotrys, or “black mold,” are notorious for the health problems they can create.

Money judgement: when the court rules the tenant owes the landlord money. This is also sometimes called a monetary judgment.

Motion: a request for a judge to issue a ruling before a case reaches trial.

Multiple dwelling registration: when a residential building contains three or more separate housing units and neither the landlord nor his or her immediate family reside in the same building, he or she must register that fact with HPD.

Non-payment case: a case brought by the landlord when the tenant has failed to pay rent. These cases can be brought to collect money owed, but can also include motions to evict tenants who are unable to pay the full amount.

Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition: a grassroots organization based in Kingsbridge that partners with local, city-wide and national organizations and institutions to tackle justice-related issues linked to housing, energy and education.

Notice of eviction: a written notice delivered by a landlord or representative, notifying the tenant that they must comply with their lease or move out of the property. This is also sometimes called a marshal’s notice.

Notice of petition: a written notice of a petition delivered to a respondent, detailing when the court will hear the petition.

NYCHA: New York City Housing Authority. This is the government body that oversees providing housing for low- to mid-income residents in the five boroughs.

OCA: the Office of Court Administration, overseen by the state and used by landlords. It gained notoriety for its past practice of selling Housing Court data to tenant-screening companies, resulting in names appearing on tenant blacklists.

One-time emergency grant: also known as a ‘one-shot deal,’ this is a one-time emergency payment from HRA awarded to eligible tenants facing expenses they are unable to pay themselves at that moment, such as back paying rent arrears, utility or moving costs, etc.

Order to show cause: courts often issue an order to show cause in cases where they believe a judge will need more information on a case in order to reach a decision. It is often used as a way to argue that a judge should offer relief to one party.

Part: another term for courtroom.

Petition: Similar to a complaint filed in court, a petition is a paper filed in special proceedings and states what is sought from the court and the petition’s respondents.

Pro se: self-represented, as opposed to being represented by a lawyer in court.

Rent delinquency: when a tenant pays rent late, or fails to pay at all.

Resolution Part: before housing cases go to trial, they will first go through Resolution Part. This is where a judge will attempt to reach an agreement with the landlord and the tenant to avoid trial.

Right to Counsel: otherwise known as the Universal Access to Legal Services Law, a 2017 law that guarantees free legal aid to certain residents of the state by zip code. By 2022, all tenants should qualify.

Section 8: also known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, this is a program created in 1978 and operated by NYCHA to help low-income tenants in finding rental properties in the private property market.

SEPS: Special Exit and Prevention Supplement, another previous rental program run by the city and recently incorporated into CityFHEPS. SEPS was used to help those already in shelters, or in danger of depending on them, secure permanent housing.

Slum: housing not fit for human habitation. This often occurs across multiple buildings in one area.

Slumlord: a landlord of a slum property. Slumlords are often notorious for charging unreasonably high rents for substandard properties while not addressing repairs.

Stipulation: an agreement between tenants and landlords in court, in writing, on how a case will be resolved. Also known as “a stip.”

Subpoena: a summons ordering someone to attend court. Courts issuing subpoenas will specify any documentation or evidence that a subpoenaed party is also required to provide.

Superintendent: a live-in employee of a private landlord or of NYCHA, who is responsible for supervising the operation and maintenance of properties under the direction of the landlord or the housing agency. Also known as a “super.”

Tenant: a person renting a property from a landlord.

Testimony: a statement made under oath related to a case or claim.

Trial: the formal examination of a legal claim in court. Most housing court cases do not need to go as far as trial, as agreements are often made in the Housing Part of the court.

Posted in - Housing Court Project Officials0 Comments

How HIV outreach is tackling an “invisible crisis” in The Bronx

Aviles looks on as his colleague prepares for a customer in a Bronx barber academy.

Charles Aviles, a 36 year-old Bronx resident, will always remember his mother’s childhood friend Ronnie when he thinks about growing up during the 1980s. Ronnie had treated Aviles like a son, helping him with things like tying his sneakers.

“He had one of those million-dollar smiles, like nothing ever bothered him,” he said.

But when Aviles was just 10-years-old, Ronnie passed away suddenly. That was when Aviles first became aware of AIDs. The global epidemic continued to rage throughout Aviles’s childhood years and into the early 1990s.

HIV and AIDs rates have decreased globally since the peak of the epidemic in the 1980s, and earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the number of HIV diagnoses in the state had declined by 28 percent since 2014. But that doesn’t mean progress is evenly spread: just as the Bronx was disproportionately affected during the crisis’s peak, today it is one of the Center for Disease Control’s 45 HIV hotspots across the country.

There are several factors that feed into the “invisible crisis” of HIV in the south Bronx, according to Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health. HIV rates are higher among Latino and African American populations, which disproportionately populate the borough. There are also generally higher rates of HIV among men under 25 years old, particularly those who are gay and bisexual. The Bronx also has the largest youth population of any of New York’s five boroughs. Language and cultural differences also play a role.

Both government and non-profits have been trying to address the issue with outreach programs tailored to specific demographics.

For example, hair care professionals were one of the groups identified by the CDC as potential partners for its Business Response to AIDs initiative, which began in 1992. The program partners with businesses, health departments, community based organizations and government agencies to provide public education on HIV. As barbers in New York are already required by state law to receive training on contagious disease transmission associated with their professional duties, training centers for hair care professionals were an obvious group to incorporate into the program.

Aviles, who is training to become a barber at the Beyond Beauty & Barber Academy in the Bronx’s Westchester Square neighborhood, is also being trained to talk to people about HIV. For Aviles, it’s important not just to have practical knowledge about safe barber practices – sanitizing equipment, taking care with pimples and open wounds – but also about how the community provided by space can facilitate difficult talks.

“Barbershops are the places where you let loose, where you want to be able to talk sometimes and at home you can’t really have certain conversations,” he said. “But when the fellas are around, it’s a great environment to have certain conversations.”

But despite efforts like the CDC’s, there are several reasons that HIV rates remain high across the Bronx today.

There are fewer health services in the area than elsewhere in the city, and Latinos and African Americans are disproportionately uninsured, or have inadequate coverage. For many, that means that PrEP, a highly effective antiretroviral drug, often isn’t available to them. Bronx residents generally have lower incomes than in other parts of the city, Dr Guilamo-Ramos said, and other expenses might seem more urgent than medication for a chronic health condition.

People also feel scared about going into formal spaces like hospitals or clinics to take an HIV test test, said Daniel Leyva, the Latino Commission on AIDs’s press secretary. This discomfort can be especially prevalent among Latinos and people of color, who can feel socially and culturally excluded in places like sexual health clinics.

“It’s really sad to see that a lot of people in our community are still dealing with so much stigma,” said Ivan Ribera, a community engagement specialist at Latino Pride Center whose daily work involves approaching people to talk about HIV prevention.

All of this has grave consequences for the Bronx. The borough’s rate of premature deaths from HIV was twice as high as the New York City average in 2018, according to Community Health Profile data., which put the Bronx’s rate at 12.3 deaths per 100,000 compared to Brooklyn’s 6.4 and the New York City average of 5.9. In total, the Bronx saw 792 premature deaths from HIV last year.

Moreover, the South Bronx itself is a pocket with much higher HIV death rates than anywhere else in New York City. Morrisania, Mott Haven and Hunts Point were among the worst-affected areas.

HIV mortality rates in the South Bronx, compared to the rest of the city.

Dr. Guilamo-Ramos has piloted a number of pioneering outreach and education programs in recent years, but described youth infection rates as a “raging epidemic”. As a result, two of the programs he runs – Families Talking Together and Fathers Raising Responsible Men – target teenagers and work with families to communicate on the issue.

Ribera said he talks to approximately eleven people a week on an individual basis as part of his outreach work, and that much of it involves trying to get people to use condoms. “There’s this idea that NYC condoms don’t work,” he said, alluding to rumors that condoms issued by the city’s Health Department are faulty. “So we try to push condoms, to eliminate those patterns.” In addition to approaching people in the street, Ribera and the Latino Pride Center produce discreet boxes filled with a range of differently-sized and -flavored condoms and leave them in places like barbershops.

Churches are another space being leveraged to offer a culturally-specific outreach service, due to their standing in minority communities and the close personal relationships they often cultivate in areas such as the Bronx.

“Churches are becoming a mediator between communities and its services people who are nervous about seeking services somewhere else,” said Leyva, adding that they can be particularly important for people who don’t see themselves as a part of at-risk groups or who don’t realize the breadth of health services they are entitled to use. “At the end of the day, it’s about promoting safe spaces for people to discuss sensitive issues.”

In Aviles’s mind, the necessary outreach work to combat HIV in the Bronx shouldn’t pose as many challenges as it appears to. “It doesn’t mean you got the cooties or anything like that. You’re just a normal person,” he said. “Things happen.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Community Resources, Featured, Front Page, Health, south bronx, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Stone Soup of the South Bronx

Sancochazo stew simmered over an open fire in Brook Park, South Bronx. Credit: Ciara Long.

Salsa rhythms pulsed from a hidden spot on the afternoon of Saturday September 28, floating over the trees shielding Brook Park from view along with wafts of cilantro, garlic and cassava. At the park’s entrance, a hand-painted yellow sign offered an explanation in capital letters for the 200-person crowd gathering inside: BIG BRONX SANCOCHAZO.

Now in its sixth year, the Big Bronx Sancochazo is an early fall staple organized by South Bronx’s Green Workers Cooperative. Centered around sancocho, a traditional cassava-based meat stew popular in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, participants are invited to bring something to the table: ingredients, entertainment or even just an extra pair of hands to help with the cooking.

Children paint slabs of wood and rocks, making balloon animals and playing in front of a community garden, while adults hug neighbors and community members like long-lost friends.

Laticosina worker makes maize tortillas to accompany the Sancochazo. Credit: Ciara Long

The idea behind the event originated from the children’s story of the Stone Soup, where a group of people work together to make and eat soup together as an illustration of community and cooperation. “So, we created the South Bronx version of the Stone Soup,” said Omar Freilla, Green Worker Cooperative’s director and founder.

Making the sancocho itself is a laborious, hours-long process that requires collaboration. Ysanet Batista, creator of plant-based Dominican catering service Woke Foods, oversaw the stew’s preparation. Over a sizzling hot plate, the women’s catering collective Laticosina made maize tortillas and pupusas, a typical Guatemalan snack made by stuffing corn flatbreads with vegetables, beans and cheese. Freilla, meanwhile, poked at the fire underneath thigh-high stew pots, sending scents of oregano and sweet potato flying through the air and cutting across people’s conversations.

“It’s a labor of love. It’s very Caribbean,” said Sheena Sheena Sepulvedam, a 28-year-old chef attending the Big Bronx Sancochazo for the first time. “It tastes really good, but it’s even better being surrounded by other people eating it as well, with that idea of communal cooking and communal energy along with the blessings.”

Ityopia Rootz, a catering co-op working with hydroponic vegetables, at El Gran Sancochazo del Bronx. Credit: Ciara Long

As they wait for the sancocho, a purple-haired DJ spins vinyl records from Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa, accompanied by a white-clad conga drummer. Riaan Tavares took the stage to teach salsa in 2, a faster incarnation of the traditional Latin American dance that originated in the Bronx.

Shortly before the food was served, indigenous Mexican Veronica Raya and her family performed traditional dances and invited participants to form a “friendship chain”, which they led in a meandering circuit across the yard. When the stew was finally ready, Raya and her family blessed the food with a chant as hungry Bronxites formed a patient line.

For Khadiedra Williams, the 31-year-old head of hairstyling cooperative Hair for Purpose, the mix of cultures and communities is what makes the Sancochazo special. “You have everything right here in a melting pot,” she said. “There’s nothing that specifically you or me, everything is for everybody.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Southern Bronx1 Comment

BankNote building, in Hunts Point, South Bronx

Cryptocurrency Comes to The Bronx

BankNote building, in Hunts Point, South Bronx

One August weekend, a dozen 18- and 19-year-olds filed into a large, former industrial building in the South Bronx for a class on how to better manage their money. Once a factory where pennies were minted and paper money was printed in the early 20th century, the landmark Hunts Point BankNote building found a new purpose in 2014 when it was converted into office spaces.

And for two full summer days, an entrepreneurship incubator inside the former money factory became a boot camp about the 21st century’s answer to currency woes: cryptocurrency, a form of digital currency that allows people to make financial transactions without using a bank.

Cryptocurrency allows individuals to make peer-to-peer transactions whose authenticity is verified by a network of computers rather than a third-party institution like a bank. People using cryptocurrency can use digital wallet apps to pay for goods and services.

It’s often heralded as a solution for developing countries where banks are scarce, but Morrisania high school teacher Carlos Acevedo argues that the cryptocurrency industry could have just as much impact closer to home.

“My point of view was that you don’t need to go that far,” said Acevedo, who lives in the suburbs of New York and has taught English in the Bronx high school for the last seven years. “You’re four miles from the World Trade Center, and this is the unbanked right here.”

Acevedo hopes that the technology can help Morrisania and East Tremont, where 28 percent of the residents don’t have bank accounts, according to a 2013 study from the Urban Institute. That can mean paying additional fees when cashing checks or paying bills, and a higher likelihood to turn to predatory lenders in times of financial difficulty.

The Bronx has adopted cryptocurrency faster than almost anywhere else in New York because banks are so scarce, said Leighton Banton, a program assistant at BXL, an entrepreneurship incubator inside BankNote that hosted Acevedo’s class for the weekend.

“There are so many corporations that say they can’t make their way out here,” Banton said. “But I see people using Bitcoin ATMs all the time. They have more faith in the cryptocurrency than in the actual financial systems we have.”

The idea for this crypto boot camp came two years ago when Acevedo realized that even his most diligent Advanced Placement English students knew nothing about managing their personal finances. Many of his students’ parents had no bank accounts.

He began teaching voluntary classes after school hours to help them learn about bank accounts, credit cards and money management.

“Eighty to 90 percent of my students will have talked about having to send money home to family members,” said Acevedo, “or not being able to have a credit card, or having to pay money to get to a bank branch because they don’t have one near them.”

Acevedo said that in addition to a lack of financial knowledge among his students, there’s a noticeable absence of banks in the Bronx. In the four-mile stretch that he commutes every day, from Fordham University to the high school he teaches at in Morrisania, he barely sees any branches.

Despite more than two dozen ATMs, there are just six bank branches in his corner of the South Bronx, including one municipal credit union. Even other South Bronx neighborhoods are better served than Morrisania: Pelham Bay has 10 bank branches, eight of which are only a few hundred meters apart. By comparison, Manhattan’s Upper West Side has 38 branches.

“People get the short end of the stick and they don’t know what to do,” said Tashima Lee, one of the boot camp’s attendees and a former Acevedo student who became interested in cryptocurrency after one of the teacher’s financial lessons. “And they end up spending money because they burn it in a flash.”

For South Bronx residents, it made sense to find alternative ways to make essential financial transactions – like cashing a salary check – that didn’t involve paying to take public transport, or relying on restrictive opening hours.

Cryptocurrency provides a different way for South Bronx residents to make their financial transactions where banks are most scarce; despite the short time that the technology has been around, there are already seven cryptocurrency ATMs in Morrisania alone.

As a part of his education initiative, the Crypto Community Project, Acevedo rounded up eleven industry leaders from national firms including the Electric Coin Company and Gemini to speak to his former students about cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies (which underpin the security of cryptocurrency transactions) for a two-day boot camp.

In addition to lectures, the class gave students the chance to put theory into practice, using a digital wallet to purchase ice cream at the local ANC theater.

Leighton Banton said Acevedo’s initiative means that Bronx residents have a chance at becoming active participants rather than just consumers with cryptocurrencies.

“There are so many corporations that say they can’t make their way out here,” Banton said. “But I see people using Bitcoin ATMs all the time. They have more faith in the cryptocurrency than in the actual financial systems we have.”

Banton said Acevedo’s initiative means that Bronx residents have a chance at becoming active participants rather than just consumers with cryptocurrencies.

“Black and brown Bronx kids can get a $100,000 job without college if they apply themselves to this,” said Banton. “I know that someone from that program is going to be a millionaire one day, because of something they learned here.”

Jemima Joseph, an 18-year-old former Acevedo student, said that while she hadn’t spent the cryptocurrency during the workshop, she sees the potential it offers for when it comes to sending money to family outside of the U.S. She hopes that one day it will make it easier and cheaper for her to send money to relatives in Togo and Nigeria.

“This isn’t a short-term accomplishment,’ she said, when asked what the practical use of cryptocurrencies to her now. “It will take a while, but I see it gaining momentum.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Money, Morrisania, Morrisania, south bronx, Southern Bronx0 Comments