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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Pubs & Reports

Home Court Advantage: How Landlords Are Winning and Tenants Are Losing in Brooklyn Housing Court



Every year, hundreds of thousands of cases go before New York City’s housing courts. In Kings County, both landlords seeking evictions and tenants seeking necessary repairs must bring their cases in Brooklyn’s Housing Court. Unfortunately, they are compelled to use an overburdened system that struggles with the sheer volume of cases it receives. And problems due to the high volume of cases are exacerbated by problems with facilities, services, and legal procedures at Brooklyn Housing Court.

One unifying feature of the myriad problems at Brooklyn Housing Court, however, is that they disproportionately affect tenants. From the outset, tenants are disadvantaged by the fact that most landlords have attorneys while the vast majority of tenants do not. While this disparity is beyond the scope of this report, it is compounded by problems with the physical environment, the lack of services and information, and the need for greater respect and impartiality.

When Brooklyn tenants go to Housing Court, they face a confusing system and a lack of clear signs and information to help navigate that system. They deal with overcrowding both inside and outside the courtrooms, aging infrastructure, and substandard facilities. The confusing layout, the lack of space, and old facilities all result in a disorienting and unpleasant experience. People with limited English proficiency, parents obliged to bring small children with them to court, and people with disabilities all face additional challenges because of inadequate multilingual services, the lack of childcare, and the limited accommodations for people with disabilities.

Furthermore, tenants encounter disrespectful treatment by court staff and legal proceedings that are arguably biased against pro se tenants. Landlord attorneys are granted special privileges and a culture of disrespect towards tenants has been allowed to permeate Brooklyn Housing Court. What is on the line is something as fundamental as the roof over our heads, and yet pro se litigants, most of whom are tenants, have a difficult time accessing justice at Brooklyn Housing Court.