Going to Housing Court: deadlines

This week the Daily News published a piece called “It’s disorder in the court! Housing advocates cry foul over unpublicized earlier tenants hearings.”

Because of my recent salutary experiences in Housing Court, I read this article carefully, especially because the headline suggested that the Brooklyn Housing Court experience was the opposite of mine, in Manhattan.

Briefly, the article — quoting tenant advocacy people who complained vocally to the News — inadvertently emphasizes a point I made recently, about paying attention to deadlines. The opening paragraphs say:

Brooklyn Housing Court made an unpublicized switch to earlier deadlines for morning court appearances — putting tenants at greater risk of automatically losing their cases and their homes.

The morning roll call in courtrooms at the Livingston St. facility was moved up by 30 minutes on Monday with little notice — and advocates charged chaotic conditions in the courthouse make it virtually impossible for tenants to be on time.

My reading of this? The administration for Brooklyn Housing Court moved the deadline for appearance in court, previously loosely 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m., to 10 a.m. The administrative judge claims they changed the deadline “to prod landlords’ lawyers to punctuality. The rule requires them to check in and answer roll call or have their cases dismissed.”

I’m inclined to believe the administrative judge. While tenants’ advocacy groups maintain that “Tenants will lose their homes because they are waiting on long lines at security or because the elevator is broken,” I think, with all sympathy to tenants, this is hyperbole. Of course tenants’ support groups automatically cast a jaundiced eye upon all judicial schedule changes, assuming prejudice in favor of the legal profession.

In my experience, judges are especially patient with people who are not represented by lawyers, and rather impatient with lawyers who arrogantly don’t show up on time, or who haven’t done their homework and misstate facts or don’t understand the application of law in that specific court.

Yes, even in glorious Manhattan, the lines to get into the courthouses (through security and x-ray machines) are long and, indeed, whoever runs the courthouses should do something about the crazy wait for elevators, especially in the morning when not only plaintiffs like me are showing up, but juries as well.

And yes, it’s a cram. But when the papers I carried specifically stated that I was to show up in court at 9:30 a.m., I calculated getting past security and into an elevator and made sure I got to the courthouse by 9.

Brooklyn does sound somewhat worse, so let’s give hearty support to the new coalition, Brooklyn Tenants United, which has been “campaigning since December for improved conditions at the building…”

But if I’m doing anything here on Sidebar, it is to encourage plaintiffs to assume responsibility for their cases. Even if you don’t feel capable of learning enough about your case to participate fully in it, here’s one mandate you must accept: find out when you must show up, and show up on time.


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