Issues related to housing – such as code enforcement and city ordinances – will be heard by the end of the year in a special part of Rochester City Court.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill that had been in introduced a few years ago by Assembly member Harry Bronson but finally received support in the Senate.
The law is designed to bringing consistency and stability to cases brought by the city for serious housing code violations and to landlord-tenant matters where complicated defenses are raised.
The legislation also gives the dedicated housing court judge broad power to remedy housing code violations.
The law also requires an advisory council with representatives appointed from the real estate industry, landlord organizations, tenant organizations, civil legal services and the city. The council will help bring systemic issues to light and allow for collaborative problem-solving, according to a news release announcing the establishment of the housing court,.
The court will have to report annually on its work, submitting documentation by Jan. 31 of each year to the governor and mayor as well as the judicial administrational.
The court is scheduled to begin Dec. 6. Rules determining its implementation, such how many judges will be assigned, are being negotiated.
City Court has other dedicated parts, such as for gun- and drug-related charges.
Advocates for a housing court have been working toward this moment for several years. An earlier attempt at a bill modeled on the Buffalo housing court had been in the Assembly, but there was not enough support in the Senate. Freshman Democratic Sen. Jeremy Cooney took up the bill in that chamber and it was passed on the last day of the session.
In February, City Council adopted a resolution for a home rule message, meaning it was asking the state for legislation that would pertain only to Rochester, not the rest of New York.
The bill signed by Hochul is a result of the work at the city and Albany levels.
The state law was announced Oct. 13 by Bronson and Cooney. It was supported by all the Democratic members of the Rochester delegation.
“In order to protect the rights of the members of our community, it is essential that we provide equitable representation,” Assembly member Demond Meeks said in a news release announcing the law. “The pandemic has only exacerbated several long-standing issues including housing insecurity and has strained the relationship between landlords and tenants. I am proud of the members of our delegation for working to pass legislation that made the Rochester Housing Court a reality. To promote safe and stable homes in our communities, we have to address violations in a timely and effective manner that sets a clear standard for tenants and landlords.”
“Housing is a basic human right and we must do all we can to ensure safe, stable housing for the families of Rochester,” Bronson said in the news release. “ … This law will help guide families, property managers and landlords by providing consistency in the handling of housing. This important legislation will ensure our families a safe place to call home.”
Cooney said that navigating the court system can be a challenge for people facing discrimination or wrongful eviction. “By creating the first ever dedicated Rochester housing court, we will help families access legal support more smoothly and equitably.”
Representatives of the legal community also participated in the announcement.
Tina Monshipour Foster, executive director of JustCause, said that landlords and tenants have advocated for years for a housing court. Rochester City Housing Court for many years. “Not only will litigants save time and money, but they will have access to legal counsel and other services when they appear at the Hall of Justice. This is a win for everyone in our community.”
Johnathan Feldman, legal director of Empire Justice Center, said the court will provide tenant advocates and City officials an avenue to address long-standing problems.