Mediation Pilot Program in Brooklyn: Resolving Licensee Holdover Claims in Housing Court
By: Nick Schmitt, Program Manager
Just like our city, Housing Court can be an overcrowded and confusing place to navigate, especially for unrepresented parties. Chief Judge Janet DiFore recently formed a Special Commission to recommend improvements to NYC’s Housing Court, which is described in the Commission’s 2018 report as “one of the busiest and most overburdened courts in the nation.”*
The Commission’s report portrays the Housing Court experience of landlords and tenants as extremely stressful, where “some tenants face the frightening prospect of losing their homes…landlords may be concerned about losing their livelihood…”** In response to the report, the Commission has developed a blueprint to prevent court congestion and delays, and to improve litigants’ experience.
How wonderful that the Special Commission believes in the value of mediation and included it as one of the recommendations in their report! In 2018, New York Peace Institute was selected to spearhead a pilot in Brooklyn to mediate landlord and tenant holdover and other landlord/tenant issues. A holdover dispute is when the landlord, or the primary leaseholder to the premises, is seeking to get another person residing there out of the premises for reasons other than not paying rent. The program has been set up as a “presumptive” model, in which the case is presumed to be mediated unless the parties opt out.
Still in the early stages, this program has seen some great results. Of the 60 cases mediated, 70% reached full agreement. We believe the pilot has been a success thus far not only because of the agreement rate, but because of the positive reaction the parties have had to the experience and the support we have had from Judges Gonzales and Schekowitz. Client surveys showed that 84% of parties felt the mediation allowed them to better understand their own goals, options and resources, and 100% would recommend mediation to others. We are so grateful for the commitment and assistance of the Unified Court System and the many judges and court staff who worked together to get this program up and running. We also appreciate our courageous mediators who attended the trainings and have been mediating the cases on site. The court’s spotlight is on this pilot, and with these encouraging results, we expect it will be expanding to Manhattan and other boroughs. Mediators – please contact me if you’re interested in being part of this exciting and very important project. You can reach me at email@example.com!
The following story is one example of many that illustrates the powerful benefits of the mediation process.
The parties had loved each other once, enough to have a child together. Now they couldn’t stand one another and needed to separate. However, he refused to leave her apartment and they were stuck under the same roof. She brought him to Housing Court on a holdover claim and the case wound up in mediation.
She started off with a laundry list of complaints, including that he wasn’t paying for any of the rent, groceries or other bills. He slept on the bed in the one-bedroom apartment while she had to sleep on the couch, even though the lease was in her name and she was the one with the full-time job. In short, she wanted him gone.
He said that they broke up, but he hoped they’d get back together. So, when she originally asked him to leave, he didn’t take it seriously. He started to tear up but refused to cry. He tried to leave but had been unable to find another affordable apartment. He now had a lead on a place and was nearly certain he would have it in a month but wasn’t 100% sure. He needed more time.
In mediation with New York Peace Institute, they finally had an opportunity to talk about it. What she really wanted was not for him to move out immediately, but at least to give her a move out date. The relationship was over and she needed the peace of mind and security of an agreed upon date. He understood, and eventually they agreed he could stay for 3 months if he paid the electricity bill. As I helped them write up their agreement I could hear them both sigh with relief. It hadn’t been easy, and maybe they had to come to court, but they had worked out an agreement and now they both have some closure.
* Special Commission on the Future of the New York City Housing Court, Report to the Chief Judge, January 2018, p.1