How to file a complaint in NYC’s Housing Court 1

I live in a co-op and am a shareholder, i.e., I “own” my apartment. Yet, there I was, filing a complaint in Housing Court for my “landlord’s” failure to adhere to the NYC Housing Maintenance Code. In my case, I filed against the board of directors of my co-op, not a landlord per se. Because in a co-op it’s the board who is responsible for maintaining a building in a code compliant manner.

I knew nothing about Housing Court until my lawyer suggested it, as a remedy I could use when my co-op’s board of directors failed to repair a damaged ceiling in my living room.

The damage had been caused by a leak from the radiator of the apartment above me — an apartment owned and lived in by a board member. When, after the leak was fixed, I asked to have the damage repaired, the board did what it usually does: sent a contractor to evaluate the damage. After which I heard nothing further. As I later learned, the board had refused to approve the estimate. They’d pulled this nonsense on me before; this time I was not going to let them get away with it.

One of the terrific things about Housing Court is that it’s layman/plaintiff-friendly. That is, you can go through the entire process on your own, without a lawyer. In fact, as I learned throughout the stages of my complaint, Housing Court pretty much embraces you as a pro se complainant, and leads you quite sweetly through the whole business.

So along with Small Claims Court, it’s DIY.

Your first step (it was one I passed over) might be to call 311, the city-wide help & problem line. Tell the operator your problem. They’ll switch you to an appropriate fact-gatherer who’ll take down your information, and give you a complaint number. Write it down and keep it somewhere safe.

That can be the first step. But not if you have a long-standing complaint or if it’s a kind of emergency, or if you’ve already notified your landlord or your board of directors. Which I had done.

So I didn’t call 311. I headed directly downtown to 111 Centre Street where Manhattan Housing Court is located. But now that I’m experienced (and successful) in this process, I advise you first to read through and maybe print out the entire Housing Maintenance Code to learn about potential violations.

I’ve put the link to the code in my Sites of Interest. Here’s how to use it:

  • Grab a pad and pen.
  • Open the link. You’ll see a specific table of contents. Click on every single one of the links. You may be surprised to learn what your landlord must do to be compliant with Housing Maintenance Code.
  • Anything that looks like a violation? Note it on your pad and maybe print out the chapter or subchapter. But if you don’t see your problem — for instance, I don’t see anything about repairing damaged ceilings after leaks — don’t be discouraged. There are a number of violations that don’t necessarily show up in this code.
  • Now click this link: HPD Building Info.
  • On the top, enter your building’s address and run a search.
  • Your building’s info pops up on the top of the screen.
  • Down the left side of the screen is a column with a number of links. Click on “open violations.” Print out the list.
  • Then have some fun: click on each of the links in the left column. Who knows what you’ll find? (For one thing, you will need the property registration info for your own filing.)

I didn’t know about this site and was thus unaware that, aside from the violations I was going to complain about, my building had a bunch of others, dating from 2008. I don’t know how they got there, who called them in, or whether an inspector independently cited them. Had I known, though, I would have added them to my own list, the one I was about to use for my HPD complaint filing.

And I’ll tell you how to do this next.


This entry was posted in The Facts of Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.