Additional Protections for Unrepresented Parties in Housing Court

Published on July, 12 2022 by Yvonne Peña

Earlier this year, a change to the NYS Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law took effect giving unrepresented parties (landlords or tenants) protections when agreeing to a Stipulation of Settlement (commonly known as a stipulation, or an agreement between landlords and tenants) in all housing court cases.

The Law now requires that all housing court judges ask a series of questions to the party without legal representation to determine if the party understands the terms of the stipulation, known as judges’ allocution.

During allocution, the judge must verify the following:

  • All parties have been accurately and appropriately named in the court case.
  • If a named party in the case is not present, the relationship of the person signing on behalf of the absent party should be noted.
  • The unrepresented party understands that they may take the case to trial if they do not agree with the stipulation, or an agreement cannot be reached.
  • The attorney representing a party has not inappropriately given legal advice to the unrepresented party.
  • The unrepresented party has not agreed to the stipulation because of undue duress (excessive pressure) from the attorney of the represented party.
  • The unrepresented party agrees with or disputes any allegations in the legal documents of the case (petition or predicate notices).
  • The unrepresented party understands the claims, defenses, and options available to them.
  • The claims and defenses of the unrepresented party are adequately addressed and included in the stipulation.
  • The unrepresented party agrees to the terms of the stipulation.
  • The unrepresented party understands the consequences of either party's non-compliance of the stipulation’s terms, including deadlines and procedures for addressing the non-compliance. For example, how to bring the case back to the court calendar to obtain relief under or from the stipulation.
  • In all nonpayment cases where the court has determined an unrepresented tenant owes rent arrears to the landlord, the stipulation includes an appropriate rent breakdown.
  • The unrepresented party understands the repercussions of a judgment against them, and the party that started the court case is aware of their legal requirement to provide a ‘satisfaction of judgment’ upon payment of judgment amount.

Furthermore, the Law indicates that a conference with a court attorney does not replace the judge’s allocution. Instead, the court may use a court attorney so that the unrepresented party can determine their claims or defenses and understands all available options to them. Informed of the conference’s outcome, the judge must note on record that there was a case conference. Lastly, the law does give housing court judges the authority to determine if allocution is not necessary, based on the history of the case, prior appearances, or other factors they deem relevant.