Brooklyn Housing Court made an unpublicized switch to earlier deadlines for morning court appearances – putting tenants at greater risk of automatically losing their cases and their homes.
The morning roll call in courtrooms at the Livingston St. facility was moved up by 30 minutes on Monday with little notice – and advocates charged chaotic conditions in the courthouse make it virtually impossible for tenants to be on time.
“Tenants will lose their homes because they are waiting on long lines at security or because the elevator is broken,” said Hilary Klein of Make the Road New York, a tenant advocacy group.
“Conditions are already terrible at Brooklyn Housing Court,” she said. “We fear this will make things worse.”
Previously, most Brooklyn housing judges held off until 10:30 or 11 a.m. before declaring an automatic default for tenants who were running late.
The only advance warnings of the earlier deadlines were small signs posted inside courtrooms.
“It’s not like the court sent out a mailing to all the tenants of Brooklyn saying, ‘You need to come earlier,’” said Jonathan Furlong of Pratt Area Comunity Council, another advocacy group.
Accompanied by the tenant advocates, a Daily News reporter got a first-hand look Monday at tense, crowded conditions at the aging facility. Brooklyn Tenants United has been campaigning since December for improved conditions at the building — where only 5% to 10% of tenants have lawyers to represent them, compared with 85% of the landlords.
At 9:30 a.m., the line waiting to pass through lobby metal detectors stretched out the door and down the Livingston St. sidewalk for half a block towards Red Hook Lane.
Inside, a crowd of 40 waited for four elevators, one of which wasn’t working. Many gave up and climbed several flights of stairs.
At roll calls in two courtrooms, the early deadline caused two tardy tenants to lose their cases automatically.
“I think this will cause more homelessness,” said Yolanda Coca, an organizer with the Bushwick Housing Independence Project. “Families who drop kids at school on the way to court are always running a little late.”
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher said the new rule was made to prod landlords’ lawyers to punctuality. The rule requires them to check in and answer roll call or have their cases dismissed.
“We found tenants sit all day waiting for the other side to arrive,” the judge said. “Our concern is getting these cases resolved. We did this for the tenants’ sake.”
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