How to file a complaint in Housing Court 2

Now that you’ve done your research (in Part 1) on housing maintenance codes and your building’s potential code violations, head down (in Manhattan) to 111 Centre Street, one of the State Supreme Court buildings.

Go up to the second floor (walk up the stairs; it’s better for your physical and emotional health than waiting for the elevators). At first, the Housing Court clerks’ office might be scary: you could see a long line in front of one of the cashier-type windows. But that isn’t “your” window. “Your” window is window 5. And often there will be very few people on that line.

A Sidebar In Praise of Court Clerks

A word about court clerks in general and the clerk at window 5: she is a doll. You want to adopt her as a sister. Other court clerks in other courts may not be as sweet. Clerks put up with an awful lot of shit, a solid percentage of which comes from lawyers who will not accept that the clerk, who is the guardian and expert in process, knows what he or she is talking about.

Back in the days when I used to file stuff in court on a regular basis, I watched lawyers’ faces turning red as they lost their tempers and yelled at the clerks. The clerks took on a grim stoicism as they explained to the lawyers again and again what the process was, and why the lawyer had not shown up with the right paperwork, in the right order. I wanted to slap the lawyers’ faces; the clerks restrained themselves.

So pay attention to clerks. No matter what their attitude, they know the routine and you don’t. And anyway, if there are people on line, you will learn that no matter how bad things are in your building, other people live in much worse conditions.

Back to our Housing Court clerk, the Certified Doll. Even if I weren’t here telling you all this, she would guide you through, as she guided me. (Say hi for me, by the way. She won’t remember my name but tell her I’m the lady who praised her to the skies. Maybe she’ll remember that).

Tell her that you want to file a complaint against your landlord (or coop board) for maintenance code violations. She will give you a five-page stapled packet. On the top of the packet it says “— SAMPLE —”. And all five pages have been filed in with instructions in large black, handwritten print.

My favorite clerk (hereinafter MFC) will also give you a bunch of multi-form, um, forms. These are the ones you will be filling in (“must be done in black ink,” says the sample), following the format in the sample packet.

You’ll also want to pick up instructional booklets which you’ll find tucked into racks along the wall opposite the clerks’ windows. I pulled out a bunch of them; two were useful: A Tenants’ Guide to The New York City Housing Court; and New York City Tenants: Questions & Answers About Housing Court. Both are blue. They are somewhat reiterative but with chapter contents like, “What is Housing Court?” and “What should I do if I need housing repairs?” and “Types of Cases (Lawsuits) brought in Housing Court,” and written with remarkable clarity specifically for us laymen, you’re really not wasting time by reading through both of these booklets.

It is my strong suggestion that you not try to read everything and complete the forms there. Although there are some benches and small tables, it’s just so much easier to take all this stuff home, where you’ll have time to contemplate everything.

Here are the forms you’ve been given:

  1. Order to Show Cause Directing the Correction of Violations. (MFC actually filled in most of this form for me, either when I first picked it up, or when I returned to her for the next step).
  2. Verified Petition In Support of An Order to Show Cause (Directing the Correction of Violations).
  3. Ex Parte Order Granting Leave to Proceed as a Poor Person and to Waive Court Fees.
  4. Affidavit in Support of An Application to Proceed as a Poor Person and to Waive Court Fees.
  5. Tenant’s Request for Inspection.

Go home with your paperwork. Or, better, exit the courthouse via the Centre Street side, turn left and walk almost to Canal. Across the street, at 148 Centre, is Nha Trang, an inexpensive and adequately delicious Vietnamese restaurant. Eat, enjoy.

Then go home. And I will tell you what to do next …

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