The 2020 Housing Court Study – Why Landlords Lose in Housing Court


March 5, 2020

On March 4, 2020, Michelle Itkowitz presented the results of a year-long study of published New York City Housing Court decisions from 2019 (“the Study”) at an LNY meetup. At this event, Michelle presented her findings and drew conclusions therefrom, which benefit both landlords and tenants. Here is a link to the full Study booklet. 

Over 160 cases are included in the Study. We only considered residential Housing Court cases in NYC (both holdovers and nonpayments). Not commercial cases, not Supreme Court cases, not DHCR cases, not Loft Board cases, not cases from outside the five counties of the City, not appellate cases. We also excluded consideration of Housing Authority cases, because they operate via different rules. This Study is about Housing Court in NYC!

We classified each case into one of 18 types of cases: 

• airbnb
• chronic nonpay
• end-of-lease non-regulated
• family eviction
• failure to renew Rent Stabilized lease or to complete income certification docs
• hoarding
• illegal activity
• illegal alterations
• illegal sublet
• illegal unit
• licensee holdover
• nonpay
• non-prime
• nuisance
• owner’s use
• pets
• post foreclosure
• regulatory status
• substantial obligation
• succession

The Study was about winners and losers. We only considered matters with final dispositions in Housing Court. In other words, we only looked at cases that either ended with a judgment of possession or the case was dismissed. So, for example, we were not examining settlements. Also, for example, we did not include a case if a motion for summary judgment was denied or a motion for discovery was granted, because in such cases the case is not over yet and you cannot tell who will win. Although we did include and classify cases we considered “draws”, i.e. neither landlord nor tenant won. An example of such a case would be where the landlord won the nonpayment case, but for only half the rent. Or the landlord won the hoarder eviction case, but the tenant got six months to cure.

Why study winners and losers in NYC Housing Court? Because Michelle has long maintained that landlords and their lawyers should be making EVIDENCE BASED decisions about litigation, not emotional ones. In most other fields, people use DATA to make decisions. Landlords should as well. This information should be useful to tenants and their counsel as well.

Examples of how you can use data like this to make better decisions:

• Legal Aid represented tenants 73% of the time in this Study. And whenever Legal Aid was involved, the tenant won! We examine why that is. Legal Aid has a very careful case evaluation and selection process. Legal Aid is marshaling scares resources. They only come in where they firmly believe they can make a difference. So…if you are a landlord who sees Legal Aid on the other side of your case…maybe you better settle! 

• There were approximately seven succession cases in the Study. Landlord won three of them. This tells us that landlords do better than usual in these types of cases. There were approximately 12 regulatory status cases in the Study. Landlord only won once! If your tenant alleges an illegal deregulation –  you are in trouble. 

The results of the Study were not great for landlords, and we consider why. And it is NOT because the Housing Court judges are biased. We make suggestions for how landlords (and tenants) can get better outcomes in Housing Court, based on what the data is telling us.