The New York City Housing Court Making Sesne of Residential Jurisprudence

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.”

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5 Comments

  • own a co-op , my son has been living in the unit,his smoking has been a constent complaint .We have tried to containt in the unit,door trim,molding ,,coulking, and alarge carbon filter ($800.00).Rec'd a letter they now want us too evict him by aug 31,or they will terminate our lease. My son has no where to go because he also lost his job.Can they do this? Will I lose my unit .?can they take it?I never owned a co-op always a home. I would but this unit up for sale... to end this .would my son be aloud to stay until closing.
  • I need to evict my son from my apartment how do i go about that, he does not pay rent or anything he has a dog in there that is destroying my place i want the dog out he does not want to i am desperate i don't know what to do
  • I live in a Coperative. The Boaed imposse us a 8.5% as assessmant. Last month was defeted thier proposal of a 5 millions Loan. My question is:CAN WE BRING THE BOARD TO COURT. THERE IS NOT TRANSPARENCY.
  • Mark B. Levine, RAM (mblevine@ebmg.com) on Tuesday, March 08, 2011 4:08 PM
    Robert, The Board, so long as they are properly acting within the guidelines of using their Business Judgement can propose to do what they wish (propose to take a $5M loan, increase maintenance, induce an assessment, etc.) The transparency issue is not a legal issue. The Board is elected to represent the views, opinions and investments of the Shareholders at large, and pending what your Offering Plan states, the Board probably has a right to initiate all of these items without Shareholder approval. Since you said that the loan was defeated, they brought it to the Shareholders and it was denied. You were able to curtail an action that a majority did not want. Most Shareholders would like to see more transparency, and you'll see a lof of dissident groups running for the Board on that campaign. Openness is preferred, but not regularly practiced. If you and some of the other Shareholders feel that there is a need for more transparency and communication with the Shareholders from the Board, you can run for the Board at the next annual meeting and unseat those who you feel are hurting the Cooperative at large.
  • i was harass and mental physical abuse by one of the numbers who is sycophantic and also has a hate crime because i am gay, i own my coop and the lady i think its a renter, i already had her arrested and going to order protection against her but i want to sue the board for having her living there, neighbors who aren't doing nothing because the woman almost killed me and my partner, and lastly i want the lady to be gone out of the apartment, how can i do all that.