In a high-cost, high-density real estate landscape like New York City, when disputes arise in a multifamily building, tensions can escalate from annoyance to litigation very quickly. In rental buildings, problems can range from lack of maintenance and upkeep to rent payment default or destruction of property. In co-ops and condos, residents’ status as shareholders within a cooperative corporation or owners of real property that just happens to be cheek-to-cheek with other property changes the game a bit, but problems like noise and simmering disputes with neighbors are perennial issues.
With the differences inherent in the world of renters versus that of shareholders and unit owners, it makes sense that the Civil Court of the City of New York would have its own Housing Part. In 1997, on the 25th anniversary of the founding of that court, New York State’s then-Chief Judge Judith Kaye announced a top-to-bottom overhaul of the court, according to The New York Times. As part of that reorganization, a special Cooperative/Condominium Resolution Part of the Housing Court was created. Thousands of issues and cases have been resolved in that court in the nearly 10 years since it first opened its metaphorical doors.
A Place of Their Own
Before the creation of the Co-op and Condo Part of the Housing Court in the late 1990s, disputes between shareholders and co-ops were directed into the same litigation stream as renters and building owners. John Van Der Tuin, a partner in the law firm of Balber Pickard Battistoni Maldonado & Van Der Tuin LLP in Manhattan, has experience with both rental and shareholder cases and believes the separate court was necessary because “the dynamics and legal issues are so different.” He adds, “It’s a different economic relationship. With a co-op, it’s not just a space rental—it involves partial ownership. The breadth and depth of the relationship is different.”
Before the separate court, even the logistics of trying a case could prove challenging. “First, there was just a huge volume of landlord/tenant cases. You just got lost in it,” Van Der Tuin says. “It was difficult for any judge to give a case quality attention. When you have someone’s home on the line, that becomes a problem.”
Despite the fact that the court will try cases involving condominiums, few such disagreements actually come before a judge—again because of the status of ownership. “In most cases, condos can’t use the housing courts,” says Al Pennisi, a partner in the law firm of Pennisi Daniels & Norelli, LLP in Rego Park, and president of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives & Condominiums (FNYHC). “Each owner has the deed to each of his or her own unit. If an association does want to bring legal action against a unit owner, they have to go to the state Supreme Court, which is our trial court.”