Timeline for a non-payment case
Authored By: Legal Services NYC, LawHelpNY
Timeline for a non-payment case
Getting started +
What is a non-payment case?
In a non-payment case, a landlord sues a tenant to collect unpaid rent. A tenant can be evicted for unpaid rent.
Step 1: Your landlord makes a rent demand. +
What is a rent demand?
When your landlord asks you to pay overdue rent, your landlord has made a rent demand. The landlord, or someone working for the landlord, may ask for the late rent in person, over the telephone or in writing. However, if your lease requires your landlord to make a rent demand in writing, then it must be in writing.
By law, your landlord must give you at least three (3) days to pay after they make a rent demand. However, your lease may require your landlord to give you more than three (3) days.
Your landlord must make a rent demand before taking you to court. If your landlord has not made a rent demand, they cannot start a non-payment case against you or evict you.
Note: When your landlord makes a rent demand, you are not evicted. You cannot be evicted until a housing court judge says you are evicted. If you have received a “Notice of Eviction” or your landlord has changed your locks, you should seek legal help immediately or call 311. To learn about your rights before and after an eviction click here to read our guide.
If you believe you were not given a rent demand or you were not given a rent demand in a proper way, you can use this as a defense in a non-payment case (see Step 3). Click here to read a PDF from NYC Housing court about using the defense of improper rent demand in a non-payment case.
Step 2: You are served the court papers. +
To start a court case against you, your landlord must file a “Non-payment Petition” and a “Notice of Petition” with the housing court. These two petitions are the court papers that are necessary to start a non-payment case. You must receive copies of both of these court papers. This is called service.
What is service?
Service is when you are given copies of any court papers filed against you. In a non-payment case, you must receive copies of the “Non-payment Petition” and the “Notice of Petition.”
The NYC Housing Court has rules about how papers should be served. Your landlord is responsible for making sure you are given copies of these court papers. However, your landlord cannot serve you the papers.
The papers must be served by someone who is 18 and not involved in the case. This person should attempt to hand deliver the copies to you, or you might receive them in the mail.
If you did not receive a copy of the “Notice of Petition” and “Non-payment Petition,” or if you believe the rules of service were not followed, you can use this as a defense in your case.
Step 3: Go to housing court and file an answer within five (5) days of service. +
What is an answer?
An answer is the official term for how you tell the court your side of the story. Your side of the story is also your defense.
You must answer the “Non-payment Petition” within five (5) days. To answer, you can go in person to the housing court and file your answer, or answer in writing.
The easiest way to file an answer is to go to the housing court in person. Go to the housing court and speak to the housing clerk. Tell the clerk your defense.
The clerk will fill out an “Answer in Person” form as you give your defense. After the form is complete, the clerk will give you a copy of it. Check to make sure the form is correct. If it is not correct, tell the clerk. Bring a copy of the “Answer in Person” form with you to court.
What defenses can you use in your answer?
- If you did not receive a rent demand or did not have at least three (3) days to pay, you can use this as a defense.
- If you were not given copies of the “Non-payment Petition” and the “Notice of Petition,” or you were not given copies in a way that follows the rules of the court, you can use this as a defense.
- If you are not paying rent because there are bad conditions in your home that your landlord refuses to fix, you can use this as a defense.
Would you like to see a full list of defenses you can use in your answer?
Do you live in a rent-stabilized apartment? Are you a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) tenant?
Answering in writing is more complicated. If you answer the court in writing, instead of in person, you will be required to serve your landlord a copy of the written answer. After serving the written answer to your landlord, you will need to get an “Affidavit of Service” notarized.
You will need to bring a copy of the written answer and the signed and notarized “Affidavit of Service” with you to court. If you would like to answer in person, read more about filing a written answer here. Then, read about serving your written answer to your landlord after filing it with the court here.
Need more help? We can connect you to free legal help, click here.
Step 4. Start preparing for court. +
After you file your answer, the clerk will give you a court date. This date will usually be about a week away.
Now you need to start preparing for your court date. Don’t wait until the last minute because you will probably need to collect documents, look over the court file or even find a witness.
To prepare for court:
- Know the documents you need. We have a helpful checklist of documents to remind you what documents you need. Read our checklist of documents.
- Know your rights as a tenant in housing court. Check out this one-page handout we put together of 12 rights you should know.
- Be prepared to advocate for yourself. Read this one-page guide from Legal Services, "Top Ten Mistakes Tenants Make in Housing Court."
Remember you don’t have to go to housing court alone, we can connect you to free legal help.
Step 5: Go to court on your court date. +
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 security and find your courtroom. You must tell the court that you are there, usually by telling the court clerk. If you are late or do not go to your court date, the court may rule in favor of your landlord.
Legal Services NYC put together a three-page guide, so you can know what to expect in court. Click here to read "Your Day in Housing Court."
There are people in the courthouse that are there to help you. Learn about who can help you in Housing Court.
Generally, when you go to court, one of three things will happen:
- The case could be settled because you come to an agreement with the landlord or the landlord’s attorney (see Step 6).
- The case could go to trial and you and your landlord present your cases to a judge (see Step 7).
- The case could be rescheduled for another date. If you need more time to gather documents or talk to an attorney, you can ask the court for an adjournment, which means the court date will be rescheduled.
Step 6: You may have an opportunity to settle your case before trial. +
What does it mean to settle a case?
If you and your landlord settle, it means you come to an agreement. When you settle, you and your landlord (or your landlord’s attorney) make the final decision. For example, you may agree to pay all of the money by a certain date, set up a payment plan, or the landlord may agree to do repairs in your apartment.
You and your landlord can settle before any formal actions in the courtroom have taken place. Your landlord’s attorney may even approach you in the hallway outside the courtroom with an offer to settle.
If you come to an agreement, you and your landlord will both sign a “Stipulation of Settlement.” A “Stipulation of Settlement” is a written agreement between you and your landlord on how to resolve the case.
If you sign an agreement, you will have to do what the agreement says. Many stipulations will have language that says that if the tenant does not do what the agreement says, the tenant can be evicted. The stipulation can also be written so that if either the tenant or the landlord are unable to comply, the case will go back to housing court.
Stipulations are usually written by the landlord’s attorney. It is important to remember that they represent your landlord and not you.
Note: The "Stipulation of Settlement" may be written by the judge after they ask you and your landlord's attorney if you have come to an agreement. Then you will be asked to sign it.
In any case, read the agreement carefully, and do not sign it unless you understand what it says and plan to do it.
What can you do if you do not understand the stipulation?
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 important that you are prepared and you understand and protect your rights as a tenant (see Step 4).
If you sign the stipulation out of the courtroom, you and the landlord’s attorney need to appear before the judge. The judge should read the stipulation to you and ask you if you have any questions.
Ask the judge any questions you might have about the stipulation. Tell the judge whether you agree or don’t agree with what the stipulation says.
If you say you don’t agree, the judge should give you another opportunity to change the agreement. If you tell the judge you do agree, the judge will sign the stipulation and give you a copy.
If you and your landlord come to an agreement and settle the case, skip to Step 8.
If you cannot settle, you can ask to go to trial and have a judge decide the case. Remember, even if you go to trial, you can choose to settle the case at any time.
Step 7: Go to trial. +
If you or your attorney ask to go to trial, 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 their case. Then you will have an opportunity to present your case. The judge will then make the final decision and issue an order (a written statement of the decision).
Step 8. Follow through with the agreement or the judge’s order. +
You will leave court with either an agreement (“Stipulation of Settlement”) or an order from a judge. It is important that you understand what you need to do next. You must do what the agreement or the orders say.
If you do not do what the agreement says or what the judge's orders say, you could be evicted.
Didn’t find what you were looking for? +
Here are some frequently asked questions about non-payment cases that may apply to you.
I did not file an answer. What do I do now?
If you did not file answer within five (5) days of receiving court papers, 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 to court.
Check with the court to see whether there is a default judgment against you. If there is no default judgment against you, you should immediately file an answer (see Step 3).
If you have received a notice of default judgment, it is possible to ask the court to cancel the default judgment, read the answer to “How do I cancel a default judgment?” below.
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 to present your case.
You may have received notice of a default judgment but if you are not sure if there is a judgment against you, you can check with the court.
How do I cancel a default judgment?
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.
If you are ready to ask the Court to vacate a default judgment, you can use our free and easy do it yourself program to make the court papers you need online. Click here to get started.
My court date is around the corner, but I am not ready. What should I do?
If you are not ready for court, make sure you still go to court on your scheduled date. You can ask the court for 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.
I am 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.” An “Order to Show Cause” is a way to bring the case back to court to ask for more time.
Do this as soon as possible so that you don’t get evicted in the meantime.
If you cannot afford to pay rent and are at risk to be homeless, you may want to consider applying for an emergency grant known as a One Shot Deal. Click here and follow the link on the next page to learn more about a One Shot Deal.
What are good reasons to file an “Order to Show Cause”?
Good reasons to file an "Order to Show Cause" and bring the case back to court might be:
- The landlord didn’t do what they 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.
What are some words I might hear in housing court?
Here is a list of words you might hear in court and what they mean. Some words will be new to you, some you will already know and some will be good to review.
Where is housing court?
Bronx Housing Court
1118 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10456
Kings Civil Court
141 Livingston St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
New York Civil Court
111 Centre St.
New York, NY 10013
Queens Civil Court
89-17 Sutphin Blvd.
Jamaica, NY 11436
Richmond Civil Court
927 Castleton Ave.
Staten Island, NY 10310
Still didn’t find what you were looking for?
You can visit Housing Court Answers at housingcourtanswers.org to read more.
To speak with someone over the phone that can help you, call this free and confidential Housing Court hotline 212-962-4795 (NYC only).