From the Bustle of Bronx Housing Court, Deals Emerge

The Bronx Housing Court handles roughly 80,000 cases per year. Photo credit: Flickr user Jules Antonio

The Bronx Housing Court handles roughly 80,000 cases per year. Photo credit: Flickr user Jules Antonio

In hallways packed like a stadium concourse during a break from the action, men in suits bob and weave amidst a sea of tenants facing eviction. A black-haired woman in a pants-suit yells out a name, listens for a response, then hurries up the stairs and screams it again. A young attorney listens to a middle-aged woman, leans on a ledge, and leafs through a stack of papers. Everywhere in the Bronx Housing Court, deals are being made.

Into the fray walks a woman who refers to herself as Ms. Whitley, and only Ms. Whitley because, “I don’t want to see my name on a computer.” Ms. Whitley arrives at 12:30, not long after a mother with a stroller had finished changing her baby boy’s diaper in the crowded hallway. A man approaches the diaper-changing mother and asks her to find proof that she had sent her rent check.

Other tenants may have come prepared to cut deals to reduce their back payments, but Ms. Whitley is armed with a bank statement proving she has more than enough cash to pay some $3400 in rent. That money will stay put, she swears, until the landlord sends somebody to fix her leaking ceiling.

“I have all the money!” she declares. “What I want is a certified plumber.”

An attorney for Seoul Realty, which owns Ms. Whitley’s apartment on Morris Avenue, had hoped to settle. But Ms. Whitley won’t budge. She demands a guarantee from the landlord to fix the leak, which she mentions might be caused by the woman living above her on the fourth floor.

“She’s a water buffalo, I think,” Ms. Whitley says of the neighbor.

She will wait. Meanwhile, the courtrooms are packed. “The Expediter,” a court assistant who normally moves unresolved cases to trial, says several judges are absent today. This will slow progress in a court that took on around 80,000 cases last year. By the city’s count, about 2,000 Bronx residents pass through these halls every day.

The mass in the hallway thins as the day wanes. A toddler in a white coat with fur trim pulls at the cord of a pay phone. Two girls in matching sweaters run in circles for a while, then sit and sigh. “I’m tired and I want to go home,” one says.

Meanwhile, Ms. Whitley is still fighting. Around 4 o’clock, the landlord’s attorney finally leads her before the judge. She won’t play ball, and walks out with a court date next month. If the problem is not resolved by then, her case may head to “The Expediter,” who will set up a face-off in open court.

Ms. Whitley walks into the elevator, smiling, while a woman in dreadlocks strides toward the exit and curses under her breath.

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