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How to Get Repairs By Suing Your Landlord #1

Housing Part or "HP" actions are great tools for tenants, shareholders and, in some cases, even condo unit owners, to obtain needed repairs in their apartments. This blog is a general introduction to this effective tool. In future blogs, I will address HP actions from the various perspectives of tenants, tenants associations, shareholders and condo unit owners.)

HP actions are relatively inexpensive and get the parties into court much faster than conventional litigation does. While you do now have to retain an attorney to bring an HP action, you may need one if expert witnesses testify on your behalf or if your case is complicated. Whether you retain an attorney or not, be assured that once the relevant parties are forced into a courtroom, repairs often get done!

To begin, you simply go to the window of the Landlord/Tenant division of the Civil Court clerk's office where your apartment is located and ask for HP forms. Although not all cases require an inspection (where, for example, you have other ample proof of a condition) in most cases you will fill out a form listing the conditions so that an inspector from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (DHPD) http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/home/home.shtml will inspect the premises. The inspector will issue a violation if found, which will be categorized as immediately hazardous, hazardous or non hazardous. The category of violation includes a deadline by which the owner must make the repair. If the inspector finds there is no violation, he or she will report "NVR"-no violation reported.

The landlord/building/management/board is served with the HP forms by mail as the HP clerk directs. Sending these papers will officially put the landlord on notice that you filed a complaint. Do not be surprised if the landlord suddenly tries to fix the problem before the inspector arrives to avoid a violation being issued. You should always let your landlord make repairs.

Next, the parties go to court. The parties are you and the landlord. DHPD is also a party to an HP case because DHPD is the city agency in charge of overseeing the repair of housing code violations to preserve the housing stock in New York City.

When you go to court, the clerk will give you the results of the inspection and generally, the landlord will consent to fix outstanding housing code violations within the legal time frame dictated by law: 24 hours for immediately hazardous "C" violations, 30 days for hazardous "B" violations and 90 days for non hazardous "A" violations.

Landlords will often ask for more time to make repairs so often these time frames are extended, however, those extensions are memorialized in a court order. If the landlord fails to comply with the stipulation you can return to court to seek contempt of the court order. An order finding contempt of court could result in civil and criminal penalties, even jail for the landlord. Landlords rarely get thrown in jail for failure to make repairs, but they do get fined for non compliance. Those fines go to the City, not the tenants.

From start to finish, an HP action can get you results within months-- a much shorter time frame than most litigation-which is appropriate considering the urgency of needed repairs.

In my next blog on HP actions, I will discuss some of the issues rent regulated tenants face in coop buildings to obtain repairs and by using the HP action effectively. Do tenants in coops report problems to the superintendent? To the owner of the shares for the apartment? To the Board of the coop? Details to follow!

Elizabeth Donoghue