NEW YORK â€” It is now possible to check the status of many housing court cases online, the city has announced.
A new Web site feature at www.nyc.gov/hpd shows all litigation involving the cityâ€™s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), going back to August 2006. By entering a buildingâ€™s address, a person can see all reported housing code violations as well as litigation that is pending or has been resolved for that address.
More housing court cases are filed in Brooklyn than any other borough, consistent with its higher population, said Justice Fern Fisher, supervising judge of the New York City Civil Courts. She estimated that 300,000 housing court cases are filed citywide each year. Of those, approximately 10,000 to 11,000 involve HPD. Most housing court cases are actions for nonpayment of rent. The HPD cases are actions for building repairs or code violations, Fisher said.
Michael Rosenthal, president of the Kings County Housing Bar Association, already uses the HPD Web site to check the status of building code violations, and said it will be useful to have a lead on what litigation is pending.
â€śA lot of my clients call up to start a case, and they donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re currently registered as a multiple dwelling, and sometimes they donâ€™t know even know their multiple dwelling status,â€ť said Rosenthal, who represents Brooklyn landlords. â€śMy client will be told that we canâ€™t do a certification inspection because thereâ€™s pending litigation, and yet my client hasnâ€™t been served.â€ť
Rosenthal said heâ€™d like to see more specific information about housing court litigation, including documents and paperwork, and information about how service was rendered, or how parties were notified of the lawsuit.
Tenant lawyer Martin Needelman said having online access to litigation information will save tenant lawyers the trouble of going to court to access the files.
â€śThe reality is that most poor tenants donâ€™t use these kinds of mechanisms anyhow,â€ť said Needelman, project director at Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. A. He also uses the HPD Web site to check code violations, and said it will be useful for tracking down a buildingâ€™s prior litigation history â€” though he would also like to be able to check a landlordâ€™s litigation record and more detailed information about the cases.
HPD Commissioner Shaun Donovan said the expanded Web site makes tenants and landlords aware of their rights and responsibilities and helps with enforcement. â€śAccording to the U.S. Census, housing maintenance conditions across the city are the best on record,â€ť Donovan said.
Under the law, owners of residential buildings are required to maintain apartments in habitable condition and provide tenants with heat during the winter heat season (Oct. 1 through May 31) and hot water 365 days a year. The housing quality standards in the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law and the New York City Housing Maintenance Code are enforced by the HPDâ€™s Division of Code Enforcement. If a building owner fails to maintain his buildingâ€™s apartments and provide essential services, tenants may report the condition to the city by calling 311 (or outside of New York City, (212) NEW YORK). For the hearing impaired, the TTY number is (212) 504-4115.
HPD Actions Yield $4 Million in Fines
The HPD is the largest municipal housing development agency in the country. In fiscal year 2007, the 45 lawyers in the HPDâ€™s Housing Litigation Division initiated 13,802 cases and collected $4,523,124 in fines related to violations, including $1,614,340 in heat fines for failure to provide heat and hot water. Landlords who refuse to fix their buildings face legal action, fines and even jail time.
A tenant can also sue a building owner for needed repairs or services, or to correct code violations. A lawsuit filed by a tenant or group of tenants is called an HP Action or Housing Part Action. In an HP Action, a judge can order the building owner to correct the violations.
If the court issues a judgment against the owners of a building awarding civil penalties to HPD and the owners do not pay the amount due, HPD attempts to collect the money owed.
The Web site has a glossary of terms to help users navigate the legal information. It includes descriptions of building classes, violation codes and the names of some common litigation cases.
In addition to heat and hot water cases, HPD files â€ścomprehensive casesâ€ť to correct all outstanding building violations and for failure to file a Multiple Dwelling Registration. In false certification cases, the city seeks civil penalties against landlords who have falsely certified that violations were corrected when they had not been. The HPD also files for access warrants when the owner has denied city inspectors or contractors access to a building. In 7A cases, the city seeks to have an administrator appointed to manage and collect rent in a building because of dangerous conditions, acts or harassment of the tenants.
In order to obtain a permit from the Department of Buildings to demolish or reconfigure some buildings, including single room occupancy multiple dwellings and some multiple dwellings in several zoning districts, the owner must obtain a Certification of No Harassment (â€śCONHâ€ť) from HPD. The owner submits an application and HPD investigates. If HPD finds reasonable cause to believe that the tenants have been harassed, a hearing is held before the cityâ€™s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). In some cases, HPD may deny the application without a hearing based upon the determinations in prior administrative or judicial proceedings.
A finding of harassment prevents the owner from obtaining certain types of demolition and alteration permits for three years in the case of single room occupancy multiple dwellings and permanently (unless the owner complies with an affordable housing requirement) in the case of other properties.
Donovan said the mayor plans to build and rehabilitate 165,000 apartments and homes over 10 years through a $7.5 billion New Housing Marketplace Plan.
Â© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2007
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