How to file a complaint in Housing Court. 3

Now you’re home with your pack of Housing Court forms (see parts 1 and 2 in this series).

MFC (my favorite clerk) has probably given you more than one copy of the blank forms. Good. You might need several of the Tenants’ Request for Inspection, depending on how many violations you’ll be listing.

Now, pick up the list you made of all potential HPD violations — that’s the list you garnered from reading the Housing Maintenance Code material. Take that list and a pen and walk through your apartment and all the common spaces of your building, that is, all areas for which you can give access to the inspector. Check off on your list what you’re seeing and add what you now can observe are potential violations. Then add to this list any violations you picked up from running that HPD check on your building.

Don’t edit it down too much: if it’s a potential violation, it should be reviewed by the inspector. As the Tenants Guide to the New York City Housing Court booklet says (on page 18, Section 6A), “Make sure to include every problem in your apartment and in the public areas of the building. If a problem or area is not on the list, the inspector may refuse to look at it.”

If you have reason to believe that violations in your apartment are duplicated in other tenants’ apartments (and if you have a relationship with other tenants), you can ask them to join your complaint.

(As a certified loner, I shudder to think how long it might take to herd a tenant group together for this purpose. And you’ll certainly have to prove that the landlord can’t retaliate against them. The whole action could run in slo-mo.)

Here are some of the 30 potential violations from my own list:

  • Exterior window frames have not been repainted in more than twenty years.
  • Mailboxes are broken.
  • Hallways have not been re-painted in more than twenty years.
  • Stair railing has pulled out of the wall on the first floor, at the start of the stairs.
  • On second floor, floor sinking outside 2F.
  • 2F leak damage. Cracking ceiling; need repair.
  • 2F release buzzer for front door is not working.
  • No carbon monoxide detection devices have been installed. No notice regarding the requirement of owners to install this device has been posted.
  • Floor numbers have not been posted on each floor.
  • On the second floor, a coat rack has been stored in the hallway.
  • On fourth floor, luggage, boxes and other personal items are stored in the hallway and partially block the fire escape ladder to the roof.

Pick up the sample forms packet. Go to the Tenants Request for Inspection form. Down in the “tenant’s allegation of violations” section, you’ll see an advisory to use these words: “damaged;” “broken;” “defective;” “missing.” This advice meant I had to change the language of my violations, as well as noting where in the apartment or public area the violation was.

So “Exterior window frames have not been repainted in more than twenty years,” became “Defective window frames – damaged, unpainted.” And “Mailboxes are broken,” became “damaged mailboxes, broken locks.”

The impetus for filing this complaint — my unrepaired ceiling damage — became “Leak from 3F – damaged ceiling.”

Because I had so many violations, I actually used four Tenants’ Request for Inspection sheets.

I then filled in the rest of the form. Hot tip: be really careful and precise about your landlord’s name and address. As I’ve written here before, if you get the address or even the zip code wrong, your case might be tossed out and you’ll have to go through this entire process again.

You’ll see that on the top right there are lines for “Civil Court Index No” and “The case of …” Leave them blank. You’ll be getting an index number when you go back to court to file all this stuff.

Then precisely as the sample sheets instructed, I filled in the Order to Show Cause and the Verified Petition. I got a little confused in the area under “Petition.” There are 9 numbered blank lines where, according to instruction 3 above, “The Respondent(s) has/have violated the Administrative Code of the City of New York in that the following condition(s) presently existing in my apartment has/have not been corrected: (List condition(s)).

I thought I’d done that on the Tenant’s Request for Inspection. And indeed, when I got advice from MFC (my favorite clerk), I wound up doing that form over again. What I finally wrote on the verified petition was: “damaged ceiling caused by leak;” “walls;” “stairs;” “exposed wires,” et cetera. That is, a very brief encapsulation of the alleged violations.

The last two forms in the packet involve the “order granting leave to proceed as a poor person.” I didn’t need these forms, nor would my income statement win me a freebie. The index number costs only $45. No problem.

Next: Buying an index number, filing the complaint, scheduling an inspection and serving your landlord.

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