A Grave Danger To Both Tenants and Workers: Tenants, Unions, Community Orgs, and Electeds Call For Housing Courts to Remain Closed


September 20, 2021

Dear OCA and Governor Hochul, 

As the largest labor union(s) that represent 4100 legal services workers in New York, as well as community organizations and elected officials that additionally represent close to one million New Yorkers, we strongly object to the Office of Court Administration’s (“OCA”) planned resumption of required in-person appearances in Housing Court on September 21, 2021. At a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in New York City are increasing, it would imperil the safety of thousands of New Yorkers, both tenants and legal workers, to return to pre-pandemic business as usual.

Although earlier this summer we had all hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic was ending, the Delta Variant has fueled a resurgence around the United States. This resurgence is having disastrous effects in communities where vaccination rates are lower, including in New York City. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are already on the rise here, and this unilateral push ignores the increased health crisis.   

We also know that the effects of COVID-19 have not been equal. Poor New Yorkers and New Yorkers who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color have gotten sick and died disproportionately from COVID-19. Moreover, these communities are the least protected from a resurgence of COVID-19. These are the communities that many of us come from and live in, as well as the communities we serve. We cannot enable a court reopening that will undoubtedly fuel a resurgence of sickness and death in these areas. 

From the very start of this pandemic, we have seen that our courthouses are among the most dangerous places in New York City. In these settings, where attendance is compulsory, maintenance is poor, and people are crowded together, a respiratory virus like the one that causes COVID-19 thrives. At the beginning of the pandemic, when the courts trailed many other public buildings in shutting down, judges, court staff, litigants, and our colleagues in the legal services community got sick and died. Last September, an independent team from CrowdRX found: 

“In several courthouses due to the physical layout, there were no articulated plans to keep the public safe once they enter the courthouse. This was noted for example in Brooklyn Housing Court, Bronx Housing Court, Staten Island Family Court, the Richmond County Courthouse at 18 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island Housing/Civil Court. In these courthouses, entering the court houses poses an unacceptably high-risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 due to the number of people who congregate in close proximity when forming lines and the lack of dedicated, sufficiently ventilated space to wait for courtroom appearances.”

Tenants and legal workers cannot and should not be asked to return to such buildings at this time. Despite repeated requests we have been provided with sparse and inadequate information about what efforts have been taken to make New York City courthouses safer since the CrowdRx report last fall. In fact, court representatives advised housing practitioners that they would not share their assessment of courthouse ventilation and safety with the public, deliberately concealing courthouse conditions from those they are requiring to enter. After nearly a year of successful virtual court intakes and appearances, we also fail to understand why mandatory in-person court conferencing is necessary now, or what purpose or litigant goals it could possibly serve. 

Pushing tenants and attorneys into court now, for first-time appearances that are almost always adjourned for settlement or motion practice, will not only lead to more COVID-19 cases in the courts, but will lead to the further spread of COVID-19 in our communities that have borne the brunt of this disease. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and in order to effectuate all rent relief programs that are currently egregiously delayed, we demand that OCA immediately cease any plans to require tenants and attorneys to appear in person in housing court. 


Current signatories:

Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW 2320

National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW 2320

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325

UAW Region 9A

Housing Justice for All

Right to Counsel Coalition

New York State Senator Julia Salazar, 18th Senate District

New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie, 20th Senate District

New York State Senator Jabari Brisport, 25th Senate District 25

New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, 34th Senate District

New York State Assemblymember Brian Barnwell, Assembly District 20

New York State Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, Assembly District 34

New York State Assemblymember Zohran Kwame Mamdani, Assembly District 36

New York State Assemblymember Emily Gallagher, Assembly District 50

New York State Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, Assembly District 51

New York State Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, Assembly District 57

New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, Assembly District 65

Neighbors Together 

NYS Tenants & Neighbors  

New York Communities for Change 

Housing Rights Initiative 

Crown Heights Tenant Union 

Safety Net Project – Urban Justice Center 

Community Voices Heard 

Unites Neighbors Organization (UNO)  

Tenants Political Action Committee 

Housing Conservation Coordinators 


Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson 

Make the Road NY 

PUSH Buffalo 

Catholic Migration Services 

Met Council on Housing

Cooper Square Community Development Committee, Inc

SURJ (Standing Up for Racial Justice) NYC 

Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition

CAMBA Legal Services, Inc.

CASA-New Settlement

Riverside Edgecombe Neighborhood Association (RENA)

Woodside on the Move

Broome St Tenants Alliance

Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC)

Housing Court Answers

Broome Street Tenants

Local UAW for Housing Court Answers

Ridgewood Tenants Union

Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)