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Step-by-Step Process of a Nonpayment Case

Authored By: Legal Services NYC, LawHelpNY


This resource takes you through the process of a non-payment case in eight interactive steps.  Click on the numbered steps to learn more about each phase of non-payment proceedings in NYC Housing Court.  




8 Key Steps

Before Court Rent Arrears

Before Court: Rent Arrears

Before taking you to court, your landlord has to ask you for the rent, either in person or in writing. This is called a “rent demand.” The rent demand tells you how much time you have to pay the rent. The law requires that your landlord give you at least three (3) days to pay, but your lease may require your landlord to give you more days.

When you get the “rent demand,” you are not evicted. You cannot be evicted until a housing court judge orders the eviction. The letter of demand is to put you on notice that your landlord thinks you owe rent and wants it. If you don’t pay, then the landlord will probably take the next step as described in #2 below.

You can learn more about Rent Demands here.

I did not receive any court papers but my landlord is trying to evict me! What do I do?

Your landlord cannot evict you without starting a case in Housing Court.

If you have received a Notice of Eviction or your landlord has changed your locks, you should seek legal help immediately or call a housing hotline.  If you do not have a lawyer, go to the Clerk in Housing Court as soon as possible and ask for help to file an Order To Show Cause.  You can also learn more about your right before and after eviction here.

Starting the case in court

Starting the Case in Court

If you do not pay rent after your landlord makes the rent demand, your landlord may take you to court. They will file a court paper called a nonpayment “petition” and “notice of petition” in court. Many landlords use a standard legal form when filing a petition. If you have received these documents, go to step 3.

View a sample notice of petition.

Your landlord must give you a copy of the notice of petition and petition in a special way, through a process called “service”. Court papers must be served by someone who is over 18 and who is not part of the case. There are different types of service. You or someone in your home may have received a copy in person, or you may have had a copy attached to your door, or slid underneath your apartment door.

You can learn more about “Service” and the proper way to deliver legal papers here.

If you did not receive a copy of the notice of petition and petition, or if you believe you weren’t served properly, you can use this as a defense in your case.  You can raise this in your “answer” (see step 3).

I didn’t file an answer! What do I do now?

If you did not answer the petition and you did not go to court, the landlord can apply for a “default judgment” and win the case. A default judgment is when the judge decides that the landlord wins because you didn’t show up in court. This can lead to consequences like your wages being garnished (frozen), or even eviction. If you did not “answer” in 5 days, you must check with the Court whether there is a default judgment against you. If there is no default judgment against you, you should follow step 3 and immediately file an “answer”.

Answering the petition

Answering the Petition

After you receive the nonpayment petition, you must respond to it with your defenses by going to housing court. You have five (5) days to file an “answer”, which is a legal document that responds to the landlord/owner’s claims. 

You can fill out the answer form yourself, or you can also go to the clerk’s office in the housing court and tell the clerk your answer in person. If you fill out the answer in writing, click here to see a copy of the form.

After you file your answer, the clerk will give you a court date and tell you how to serve a copy of this document to your landlord. This date will usually be about a week away.

Remember, the answer is the document that tells the Court your side of the story and you can include information such as why you didn’t pay rent, or whether there are still repairs to be made.

Learn about the defenses you can put in your answer.

Use our free and easy do it yourself program to help you create this form if you live in rent-stabilized apartment or are a NYCHA tenant. Start now!

My court date is around the corner, but I’m not ready!

If you are not ready for court, or if you want more time to gather documents or talk to a lawyer, make sure you still go to court on your scheduled date. You can ask the court for something called an “adjournment” so you have more time to prepare, and they will give you a later date to return to court. You can get an adjournment at least once. When you arrive in Court, ask to see the Court Attorney and ask for help to postpone the next court date for at least a week or more. Most judges have a court attorney who helps them review all the cases the judge is seeing that day.

Preparing for court

Preparing for Court

You will now have a court date on the “answer” that you filed. Now you need to prepare for your court date! Don’t wait until the last minute because you will probably need to collect documents, look at the court file or even find a witness.

Read our “checklist” of documents you should bring with you to Court

Learn the 12 Things You Should Know About Tenants Rights in Housing Court

Explore the Top Ten Mistakes Tenants Make in Housing Court

I missed my court date! Now what?

If you miss your court date, the landlord can ask for a “default judgment” from the judge and win the case. A default judgment happens if you didn’t show up and the landlord wins simply because you weren’t there. This can lead to consequences like your wages being garnished (frozen), or even eviction. You may have received notice of a default judgment but if you are not sure, you can check with the Court.

If you have received a notice of default judgment, and there is a reason why you missed your court date, it is possible to ask the Court to cancel the default judgment. This resource explains how to vacate or cancel a default judgment and some examples of reasons why you may be allowed to cancel a default judgment. If you are ready to ask the Court to vacate a default judgment, you can use our free and easy to use online do it yourself program to make the court papers you need.  Click Here to get started!

Your day in Court

Your Day in Court

Before going to court, make sure you review the checklist in Step 4, and have everything you need for court with you. Make sure to arrive early so you have time to go through the metal detectors and be in your court room on time. You must tell the Court – usually the “court clerk” - that you are there. If you are late to court, the court may issue a default judgment to the landlord.

Read the resource “Your Day in Court” to know what to expect in court.

Generally, when you go to court, one of three things will happen:
  1. the case will be adjourned (rescheduled) for another date. You can ask for an adjournment if you want more time to gather documents or talk to an attorney.
  2. you come to an agreement with the landlord or the landlord’s attorney about how to settle the case and you both sign a “stipulation of settlement”. It is very common that parties “settle” the case and it is likely that your landlord or the landlord’s attorney will approach you to discuss settlement. (Step 6), or
  3. you go to trial and a judge decides the case (Step 7).
Settling my case

Settling My Case

The Court usually encourages both sides to first try to resolve or “settle” the case. Usually the tenant talks with the landlord’s attorney in the Court hallway about settling a case. A “stipulation of settlement” is a written agreement between you and the landlord on how to resolve the case. You might agree to pay all of the money by a certain date, set up a payment schedule to pay what you owe, or the landlord might agree to do repairs in your apartment.

If you sign a stipulation (agreement) of settlement with the landlord, you will have to do what the agreement says. Many stipulations will have language that says that if you do not do what the agreement says, your landlord can ask a city marshal to evict you.

Stipulations are usually written by the landlord’s attorney. It is important to remember that they represent your landlord and not you. Read the stipulation carefully, and do not sign it unless you understand what it says and agree to it.

If there is anything about the stipulation you do not understand, you can ask the court attorney. A court attorney is not your attorney but an attorney that represents the Court. They are not supposed to take sides. But they can explain to you anything you don’t understand in the stipulation.

It is very important that you are prepared and you understand and protect your rights as a tenant during this step.

Settlement and Stipulation Checklist

Tenants Guide to Negotiating with Your Landlord

Information Sheet about Settlements

Going to trial

Going to Trial

If you cannot come to an agreement with the landlord, you can ask to go to trial and have a judge decide the case. The trial may take place on the same day that you are in court, or the court may ask you to come back on a different day. At a trial, the landlord’s attorney will present his case, then you have will your opportunity to present your case. The judge will then make his or her decision and issue an order.

How long a trial will take depends on a number of different things, such as how strong your defenses are, and how busy the court is. It can take up to several months.

This resource will give you an introduction about what happens at trial.

I’m no longer able to comply with my stipulation. Is there anything I can do?

This will depend on what your stipulation says. For example, the stipulation might say that either you or the landlord can go back to court if the agreement isn’t followed, or it might say that that the landlord can evict you. Usually, if you have good reasons why you did not do what you agreed to, you can go to Court to file an Order to Show Cause. Do this as soon as possible so that you don’t get evicted in the meantime. An Order to Show Cause is a way to bring the case back to court to ask for more time.

Good reasons might be:

  • The landlord didn’t do what he/she promised to do such as repairs;
  • You asked for a one shot deal and you are waiting for an answer from Social Services.
  • You unexpectedly lost your job and you need more time to pay.


After court

After Court

You will leave court with either an agreement (Stipulation of settlement) or an order from a judge.

If you signed a stipulation (agreement) of settlement with the landlord, you will have to do what the agreement says. Many stipulations will have language that says that if you do not do what the agreement says, your landlord can ask a city marshal to evict you.


This resource is part of a collection of resources on non-payment proceedings in NYC Housing Court:

Last Review and Update: Jul 14, 2016

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