This newsletter is written for tenants who cannot obtain legal representation and for advocates supporting those tenants. It should not be considered legal advice. Seek advice from a tenant lawyer about individual cases. Stipulations can be complex and it is very important to understand every part of it and how it can affect you.
Housing Court: Settlements and stipulations
The first appearance for most Housing Court cases is intended to provide tenants with an eligibility screening for Right to Counsel. Once that step has been completed, the case will be scheduled to a resolution part for possible settlement. With or without an attorney, most tenants settle their cases with a written agreement called a stipulation. Tenants moving forward without legal representation will be forced to negotiate their own terms with the landlord's lawyer (most landlords have lawyers in court). Read below for some common contents of a stipulation.
Check this guide, made in collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy, for tips on how to negotiate stipulations in Housing Court.
What is in a stipulation for a nonpayment case?
The Rent: How much you owe A settlement agreement will describe how much back rent you owe. You are entitled to a rent breakdown which states how much money is owed for each month in the past. Look this over carefully to make sure it matches your records. Look for fees and other items that you might be able to take out of the agreement.
Do you have receipts for rent paid that are not shown on the breakdown? Show the landlord and the court the receipts to prove you paid that rent so they can be removed from the agreement.
When the payment is due The Back Rent: The settlement agreement will contain deadlines for the payments. You might agree to pay the back rent in more than one payment: sometimes tenants agree to pay part of the back rent owed at one time, and the remaining amount later. Sometimes tenants can agree to make payments once repairs are completed (see below).
If you need to apply for help with the back rent, be sure you have at least 6 to 8 weeks before the payment is due. You will need this time if you are applying for a One Shot Deal or other assistance.
The Current Rent: Landlords push for stipulations that require the tenant to pay future rent when it becomes due. When this is in a stipulation, the tenant is agreeing that payments made will first go to the current month's rent and then any leftover money will go toward the back rent. This makes it harder to catch up.
Consequences What happens if you don’t pay the rent by the deadline? The stipulation might contain a judgment and a warrant and might allow for your eviction if you don’t pay by the deadline. Push to have those things removed from the agreement. Push for the right to come back to court if more time is needed rather than consent to a judgment and warrant.
Repairs Many tenants need repairs. Repairs can often be resolved in a nonpayment case. The language in the stipulation has a huge impact on how important the repairs will be as the case moves forward. Most stipulations contain very weak language about repairs which makes it hard for a tenant to have repairs taken seriously. Weak language like “petitioner will inspect and repair as legally required” can be replaced with stronger language. Better language in a stipulation will be specific and detailed and list each problem in the apartment with dates for repairs. The very best stipulations include language that the payment is contingent upon repairs. If you have an inspection report from the city's housing agency, or violations of record, you can add that to the stipulation.
Other issues (fees, lease renewal, etc) A stipulation can include other issues that both sides agree on: lease renewals, subsidy compliance, fees to be paid or not paid (sometimes a landlord will push to reserve the right to sue for fees outside of the Housing Court case).
What is in a stipulation that settles a holdover case?
Holdover is an eviction case filed to remove the tenant from an apartment, not collect back rent.
The information below is for tenants living in unregulated housing without a lease. Holdover cases are complicated - try to get legal representation or advice, if possible! Tenants in rent stabilized, NYCHA, and subsidized apartments have stronger rights and should try to consult with an attorney to explore their rights.
The pieces of a stipulation, or agreement, in a holdover case might have:
Deadline to move out The tenant might agree to move out by a certain date. Tenants can push for a move out date that works for them. Tenants might be able to bargain - offering to move out earlier in exchange for not paying rent or some buyout money.
Repairs Tenants have a right to repairs and services throughout their occupancy. Stipulations can include a list of all repairs and services needed. These are most effective when they list the repairs needed and include the dates that the landlord agrees to come fix each of the conditions.
Rent or use and occupancy The stipulation in these types of holdovers usually includes a description of how much rent will be paid and by what date. If the tenant agrees to move out by a certain date, there might be an agreement to pay use and occupancy during the months before the move out. This usually is the same amount as what they were paying in monthly rent. Some tenants are able to negotiate living rent free for a time by agreeing to move out earlier. Some stipulations include language that waives rent and arrears but makes that money due if you default on the move out date. Be careful that you understand all the parts of the stipulation and their consequences.
Rent arrears A stipulation can include a breakdown of all the rent that is owed by the tenant and payment dates or a waiver of back rent. A landlord might agree to waive the back rent if the tenant agrees to move out earlier. Landlords push for stipulations to contain consent to a warrant and judgment (money and/or possessory). These allow the landlord to hire a marshal to perform the eviction and collect the rent - even after the eviction. Tenants can push to have the stipulation require a return to court for the warrant and/or judgment.
The information in this newsletter is for general information about what is happening in Housing Court. Housing Court cases are complicated and tenants should seek representation and advice from experienced tenant attorneys.
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