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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.

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Four Bronx cops face punishment after July football game with young boy, writes Daily News

Four cops faced disciplinary action in July after playing football with a 7-year-old boy at a Bronx housing project, reports the New York Daily News. The officers say the oversensitivity of the misconduct charges will impact the relationship officers have with their community.

Deputy Chief James McNamara, commanding officer of the Bronx Housing Bureau, apparently saw the cops tossing the football with the boy on the Fourth of July and was “irate,” according to the Daily News report.

Two of the four officers are fighting the disciplinary charges, but face harsh consequences if they are found guilty of failing to remain alert on the job.

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