They say the pen is mightier than the sword. It’s a philosophy used by tenant advocates, and certainly property owners. This wielding of paper, or power, from property owners comes in a variety of forms. Obvious examples are leases and lease riders. But there’s also the threat of eviction – otherwise known as a holdover proceeding. These types of threats come all too often and are designed for multitude of purposes, but the bottom line is, the threat of eviction is a tool of harassment and intimidation. Here’s how you can find out whether the threat is truly a holdover or just horseshit.
Landlord/Tenant Court Filings Are Publicly Available In Near-Real Time
The New York State Unified Court System maintains an impressive database of information, colloquially known as eCourts. If a landlord or property owner truly filed a holdover proceeding, or a non-payment proceeding, it will appear on eCourts within a day. A tenant who sues an owner for maintenance or harassment related issues is called a HP (or Housing Part) action. So the next time a landlord, property owner, or property manager threatens a tenancy with a holdover or eviction case, you can call horseshit by following our steps below.
Step 1: Head over to eCourts
The first step to calling out your landlord is heading over to the eCourts website. The varieties of search options are outlined in the red box. We’re going to focus on “Party Search.” The “party” for the purposes of litigation is the property owner on one side, and the tenant on the other.
Step 2: Verify you’re not a robot
This step is self explanatory. The NY court system has this step to deter data mining, because they’d rather sell it than give it away for free.
Step 3: Begin your search
The key to a good eCourts search is to keep your query as broad as possible. The reason for this is multifold. As an initial matter, the data in eCourts will only be as accurate as the filer’s paperwork. In other words, if your landlord or property owner files a court petition with misspellings, or wrong information, for whatever reason, you’ll want to give yourself the best chance possible determining whether the eviction threat is legitimate. Let’s go over the main features:
- Enter the tenant name here. You can also enter the building owner name here too, but this can get difficult because owners can hide behind multiple legal entities. Keep the search as broad as possible. Some people have a first name, middle name, and last name. New York is a city of many cultures, but just about everyone will consider the final name in a name sequence the last name, especially landlords or building owners. So start with your “last name” first.
- The search can be narrowed by county. But your initial search shouldn’t specify a county just yet. Leave this field unselected, the follow up search can always be narrowed. Why? A landlord/tenant action must be filed in the county where the tenant resides, but mistakes aren’t unheard of.
- The case type feature allows the search to be narrowed further. “LT” is for a landlord/tenant actions. “CV” is for civil actions. Although a holdover or non-payment will always fall under “LT” the initial search should leave this unselected at first to gather whatever data is available. It can always be narrowed further.
- You only need to enter a “Party Name” for the search engine to work. For our example, we entered “Smith” as the party name, selected “LT”, “2019”, and “New York County Civil Court” as well.
Step 5: Sort through the results
The screenshot below is the result of searching for every “Smith” in New York County, related to a “LT” or landlord/tenant action filed in 2019. There are four cases that fit that criterion. Let’s break it down:
- Plaintiff: You’ll rarely see an actual name. Rather, an LLC or corporation will be the litigant. Or NYCHA (NYC Housing Authority, the City’s biggest landlord).
- Plaintiff Firm: Those are the property owner’s attorneys. NYCHA Law Dept, Gutman & Mintz, Borah Goldstein – the whole gang is there.
- Defendant: These are the tenants that are being litigated against.
- Defendant firm: If the tenant is represented, their attorney will appear here. Notice the tenants have no representation?
- Index Number: The index number is the specific number assigned to each case. The index number (as well as numbers in the first column) is also clickable, and gives us more case details (see step 6).
- Appearance date: This is the next date the parties are expected to appear in court. This column is also clickable to more information on the next court date.
Step 6: Case details
- Holdover – the owner of this building wants to evict the tenant.
- Filing date – the date the owner’s representative filed the holdover petition.
- Show all appearances – follow this link to more information on each court appearance for this case. From the details in this case, there was already an appearance on 1/22/2019, which was adjourned until 2/19/2019. See image below.
- eTrack – this great feature will email you updates whenever there is any change to the case, such as a sudden change in a court date.
There you have it. Tenants receive holdover threats constantly. But tenants don’t have to accept the bullshit. The next time your landlord or property owner sends you a threatening letter about evictions or holdovers, you’ll have the tools at your disposal to see just how much of a liar you’re dealing with.