Monday, May 08, 2006

New Article on Housing Court and People with Mental Disabilities

New on Westlaw: Jeanette Zelhof, et al., Protecting the Rights of Litigants with Diminished Capacity in the New York City Housing Courts, 3 Cardozo Pub. L. Pol'y & Ethics J. 733 (2006). From the introduction:

According to a 2002 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Community Health Survey, approximately 381,000 New Yorkers suffer from some form of serious mental illness. The New York City Department of Aging indicates that, according to the 2000 Census, there are over 930,000 persons over age 65 living in New York City. This number does not include those living in "group quarters," a category that includes nursing homes and other institutions. Thus, large numbers of individuals in New York City who are afflicted with mental illness or who are over age 65 are at risk of being sued in proceedings in the Housing Part of the Civil Court of the City of New York (the Housing Court) in the event of nonpayment of rent or allegations of activities that could jeopardize their tenancies.

Individuals with mental illness and individuals suffering from age-related infirmities may experience great difficulty negotiating the Housing Court system. The system has strict procedural requirements, lacks a right to assigned counsel, yet has a mandate to summarily process cases. Individuals with diminished capacity, without understanding the legal consequences of their consent, have easily been pressured into signing agreements that give judgments and warrants to landlords. These individuals may also be more susceptible than other litigants to the pressure on Housing Court judges to expeditiously process summary proceedings. They may also be adversely impacted by the Housing Court's hectic environment, where, often, little time is allowed for inexperienced defendants to fully comprehend the issues despite the enormity of the rights at stake.

On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Housing Court, this article examines the statutory and jurisprudential bases for protections currently in place for litigants with diminished mental capacity. This article also suggests improvements, including accommodations pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) and a right to counsel, so that the Housing Court can better serve and protect the rights of litigants with diminished capacity.


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