How to file a complaint in Housing Court 4

You’re now ready to trot down to court and file your complaint.

Advice: along with your date book (or whatever device you use as a calendar), bring exact change for the filing fee of $45. When I approached the cashier’s desk with the $60 I’d just extracted from an ATM, the cashiers looked all over the place (and in their pockets) but didn’t have change. So they sent me down to the first floor where a sweet, legally blind guy tends the newspaper stand, to ask him for change.

I felt guilty, so I bought nuts and candy and who knows what else, to get a twenty broken, and then I ran upstairs again, feeling abusive and silly. Don’t feel abusive and silly. Take the proper change.

More advice: go to your local post office before you go downtown, and pick up several green certified mail postcards, and several green-and-white certified mail receipts. And even more advice, make sure you do your court filings earlier enough so that you can get to the post office in time to send certified mail.

So now you’ve got all your forms properly filled out and your $45 in exact change. Go back downtown to MFC (my favorite clerk) at window 5, second floor, 111 Centre Street. Give her all your forms. She will do magic with them: review them for accuracy, ask you to sign things, fill in blanks, et cetera. Do whatever she tells you do to. Thank her profusely.

She will tell you what the next available date(s) are for the HPD inspector’s visit to your home. Don’t faint: it is so much sooner than you would expect. I was at her counter on February 3, 2012. The scheduled inspection was for February 15, 2012. Yes, less than two weeks away. You get to pick a date and time convenient to you, and even have the option of a weekend visit.

She will next send you to the cashier where you present whatever papers she gave you. You hand over your $45. In return, you will get a receipt, with an index number. Then you return to MFC, give her the receipt and watch her perform her final magic. If I remember correctly, by the time I got back to her, she had already filled out and addressed the envelopes I’d need! She produced several copies of all the forms and distributed them. One goes directly to Housing Preservation and Development, because it is HPD who is joining you, in effect, in your complaint.

She then sealed the envelope(s) she addressed to my landlord (or, in my case, to the Board of Directors of the co-op and just for the irritation value, I also decided to serve the most irresponsible Board member directly) and instructed me several times that I needed to serve by certified mail, return receipt requested, the envelope she gave me containing the initial complaint papers.

Which is why I told you to pick up the card and receipt from the post office even before you went downtown. Because you will have a very short and specific time in which you must serve your landlord. As I said, I did my initial filing on February 3, which was a Friday. I had to serve the complaint by February 7, the following Tuesday. In between Friday and Tuesday was … the weekend.

So when I left court, I went immediately to the post office, filled out the card and receipt, attached them properly to the envelope (although I did this often when I worked for lawyers, I had to remind myself how to put everything together), paid the post office clerk $5.75 (she had change), was handed the receipt and clipped it immediately onto my copy of the paperwork. I would need this, after the inspection, when I returned to MFC and officially entered the Housing Court courtroom.

I was done. Taking positive action felt very good.

Next: The inspection and its results.

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