Housing Court 19 /Contempt 4

I last reported to you what happened when I went to Housing Court on April 16, 2013 — the court date I’d been given when I filed my Order to Show Cause to Punish for Contempt. The judge had reluctantly given my opponent an adjournment until April 30, with the understanding that the coop board would file a motion in opposition to my Order to Show Cause.

The night before my April 30 court date, I ran a building check on the Department of Buildings web site. I saw that finally a permit had been filed for repairing the last HPD violation: sloping floors in the hallway.

In court the next morning, not only did Larry, the board’s lawyer, appear but so did Chaz, a board member and officer. We were getting serious. I guess that’s what the parenthetical line under the title of my “ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE TO PUNISH FOR CONTEMPT [Punishable by Fine and/or Imprisonment]” does to the people who might be so punished: they take things seriously.

Larry presented a thick Motion to Oppose my OSC, replete with exhibits, including that DOB permit. The HPD lawyer— he who, back in January, had told me about the possibility of filing a contempt motion — presented his own Motion in Support of my motion to punish for contempt.

So we were all Moved. (That’s my expression, not the Court’s.)

We went immediately before the judge who asked about the possibility of settlement. I said that I thought my motion was for contempt and that this was not, to me, just another “they-didn’t-comply” conference so let’s settle. When Larry presented evidence that the board had truly moved forward to repairing the floors and removing the violation, the whole horde of us went out into the hallway to discuss the options.

There, Larry, Chaz, the HPD lawyer and I went over the situation. Larry and Chaz said that they were ready to complete the job, had the permits, et cetera. When the HPD lawyer asked for a date by which the work would be finished, Larry tried manfully to keep everything open-ended, because, as he mentioned, there had been too many promised dates that hadn’t worked out.

No, the HPD lawyer said, he wanted a firm date and pinned Larry and Chaz down to June 14.

Then the HPD lawyer asked me what I wanted to do about the fines. So the two of us went off separately to our own confab. I had thought that the fines could be $1000 for each of the five ignored stipulations, but learned that $250 a stip was sort of the going rate. OK, I accepted that. My HPD friend asked if I wanted to add my costs to this. I said that since my costs, aside from the initial filing fee, consisted entirely of certified mail fees, I wouldn’t bother.

Here’s where I failed to understand something rather important: those fines we discussed, a total of $1250 — $250 times the five ignored stipulations — were not to be assessed on behalf of HPD. They were to me, personally.

Had I realized that then, maybe I wouldn’t have been so Solomonic as to say, “Why don’t we suspend that fine until June 14. If the work isn’t completed by then, I’ll come back to court and the fine can be assessed at that time.” And I certainly would have added in my costs of filing the initial complaint in February 2012 ($45), and all my certified mail fees, each for $5.75, in serving everything, over and over again.

Boy was I being kind and just.

We went back before the judge and told her what we’d agreed on. (It was the judge who told me those fines were mine. I’m afraid I got really excited. She smiled.)

So I now hold another yellow copy of the Stipulation of Settlement, signed by me, Chaz and HPD, that inscribes all of the above, including, in paragraph (3), “In the event that the sloping floors is [sic] not corrected by June 14, 2013, Respondents will be assessed a civil fine in the sum of $1,250, in favor of the Petitioner.”

(By the way, one of the lawyers writes out these stipulations by hand, on a multi-part Housing Court form, and since I’m not a lawyer, Larry was the one who did the manual work. Once, HPD composed a stip of settlement and printed it out, but usually it was Larry.)

A few days ago, DOB permits went up on the front door and some construction guys came to begin working on the floors.

So it looks like my adventures in Housing Court — and my concurrent advice to all of you about the wonders, speed and efficiency of Housing Court and the lawyers for the New York agency, Housing Preservation and Development — may be over. At last.

And the hallway floor outside my apartment will be level.





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