LeFrak, citing “nightmarish” delays, takes housing court to court

Landlord says “rigged” system deprives owners of property rights

LeFrak Sues Housing Court, Alleging “Nightmarish” Delays
Richard LeFrak and the Hon. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, Administrative Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York (Getty, nycourts)

One of the city’s biggest landlords is fed up with housing court’s “interminable” delays.

The LeFrak Organization sued the city’s Office of Court Administration and Civil Court, which handles eviction suits, saying the law requires they speed things up.

The suit alleges the courts have a statutory obligation to hear housing disputes efficiently and judiciously and have failed that directive.

Delays have persisted for so long that they have “surreally become ‘normal,’” claims LeFrak, which filed suit through 16 entities associated with its properties.

“Landlords have been forced to merely accept the game as rigged and trudge along the nightmarish procedure of Housing Court in the hopes that one day, far in the future, they will be able to retake and make their property economically viable once more,” the complaint reads.

A spokesperson for the OCA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Six months after the state’s eviction moratorium expired in January 2022, landlords and their lawyers complained cases were proceeding at a glacial pace. A massive backlog was compounded by judges’ postponing cases to allow renters to find a lawyer — guaranteed free of charge under the city’s Right to Counsel law.

Little has improved in the 18 months since, the suit alleges.

LeFrak, addressing problems landlords face citywide, alleges “indefinite adjournments” are regularly doled out, giving owners no opportunity to be heard in anything close to the timely manner required by law.

Under the state’s real property law, if a tenant answers a non-payment suit, a trial date or hearing should be scheduled three to eight days later. In practice, housing court is setting initial dates for two months down the road, the complaint reads.

LeFrak’s attorneys say when tenants finally show up in housing court, a hearing is routinely adjourned for two or three months to give the renter a chance to speak with a free lawyer, which Right to Counsel guarantees.

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Theoretically, this delay could be avoided if tenants were alerted to that opportunity as soon as their landlord files to evict them, according to Craig Gambardella, the attorney representing LeFrak.

“The court adjourns every matter commenced by a landowner against a residential tenant at its first-time appearance,” Gambardella said in an email.

The law states that the trial date can be pushed out if the landlord or tenant asks. But in reality, adjournments are typically offered whether the tenant requests it or not — and approved unless a tenant declines.

That second postponement regularly tacks on another 60-day wait. Trial dates can be pushed out yet again if the tenant does not find a lawyer in that time.

“The cumulative result is an approximate four-month lapse,” the complaint reads.

If the case does result in a judgment to evict a nonpaying tenant, landlords have to wait “months on end” for the eviction warrant to be issued, LeFrak alleges.

Housing court, it claims, is in “gridlock.”

The delays, LeFrak’s complaint argues, deprive owners of their property rights and undermine the purpose of summary proceedings: “a simple, expeditious and inexpensive means of regaining possession” of a rental unit.

LeFrak asks the Supreme Court to rule that trial dates be set within three to eight days, adjournments be approved only if the tenant or landlord explicitly requests one, and eviction warrants be issued immediately.

The landlord also wants the court to ban the Office of Court Administration and Civil Court from delaying those processes.

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