The Real Deal New York

Evictions show surprising drop

March 26, 2009 04:25PM
By C. J. Hughes

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As the recession deepens and job losses mount, New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet. But those who rent apartments can take some solace knowing that they are likely facing a diminishing threat from landlords who might try to evict them to clear the way for higher paying tenants.

That’s according to new Manhattan housing court statistics, which show that the number of holdover cases, in line with the other boroughs, continued to drop through the first few months of this year.

Holdover cases are when landlords seek to evict tenants for reasons other than their not paying rent. In February, 353 residential cases were filed, according to Ernesto Belzaguy, a clerk at the court. That was down from 398 cases in January, and 415 in December, Belzaguy added.

But the downward trend in the civil court seems to have had legs for a while, even during the tail end of the recent real estate boom. Last year, the court received 5,621 holdover filings, which was a dip from 2007, when it received 6,047, the data shows.

“As the housing market has weakened, the incentive has gone down. The potential rewards don’t seem so shiny,” said Arlene Boop, a partner at law firm Alterman and Boop, which handles some holdover cases. “You may not want to push out your current tenant, because you might not get as much from the next one.”

What’s less clear, though, is why the number of non-payment cases, which are brought by landlords to collect unpaid rents, is also falling, since job losses would typically lead to rent struggles.

But the number of Manhattan residential non-payment filings in February was 4,158, down from January, when there 5,090. There were 5,515 in December, the data also reveals.

Landlords typically sue tenants after three missed rent payments, so if tenants lost their jobs in December, the suits may not have been filed yet.

Still, “it’s something of a mystery,” said Louise Seeley, the executive director of the Citywide Task Force on Housing Court, a not-for-profit organization created in 1981 to help tenants better navigate the city’s housing court. The housing court system, which includes divisions for each borough, was established in 1973. (Click the link and watch the first video for an introduction to and tour of the New York City Housing Court system.)

Jennifer Vallone, director of the Project Home program of the University Settlement, which takes on tenants’ cases mostly on the Lower East Side, is also surprised “because we’ve had an increase of people walking through our door,” she said.

Similarly, anecdotally, more people seem to be seeking guidance from the court’s pro se attorneys, who advise tenants on how to represent themselves, said Jo-Ann Carey, the court’s community outreach coordinator, though specific numbers weren’t immediately available.

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