This article was originally published on Curbed NY.
Getting kicked out of a rent-stabilized apartment? Landlord won't move his butt to address pest problems in the building? Security deposit being held hostage by the management company, post move-out, with shaky justification? Gone without hot water for six months?
These hellish situations and more are immensely frustrating, especially in a city with laws as labyrinthine and opaque as New York. But help is somewhere out there: From firms that specialize in tenant law to free online resources if you plan to tackle the court system solo, there are plenty of options if you're seeking justice. Or, well, if you just want to get your damn deposit back.
The first place to start is the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a longstanding tenants' rights advocacy organization whose motto is "housing for people, not for profit." Not only does the 50-year-old group have a 24-hour hotline, but they also have a very handy section of their website that addresses frequent concerns of city residents, from "if you want to break your lease" to "getting repairs." MCH also breaks down residential tenants' rights laws into simple language, with links back to all the governmentbabble so you know the official wording of the various statues and clauses, too. There's also an outline of every law governing housing standards, which tells you your rights as they relate to various parts of your building, even ones as minor as peepholes and elevator mirrors.
When it comes to finding a lawyer to be your knight in shining armor, MCH has an entire page devoted to the topic, which ranges from how to determine your eligibility for free legal representation in housing court to a list of six firms that specialize in this stuff to other outlets in the city that offer free or very low-cost legal help.
If you decide fight those evil overlords all by your lonesome, though, New York City Housing Court itself (where you'll end up with your attorney unless the case is settled beforehand) has compiled several helpful tips. You can meet with an attorney at their help center for free, and they also put together a list of programs around the city that offer free consultations regardless of income. Even if you wind up hiring a private lawyer, these outlets can help you figure out just how complicated your case is and start you off on the right foot.
One more tip: no matter who you end up meeting with to begin what is likely to be one long road of a legal battle, make sure to bring lots of documentation along with you. That could include your lease, rental pay stubs, photos or other evidence of any damage, your eviction notice (yikes), and anything else the lawyers can use to get a clear picture of your situation. Go forth now, ye legal mavens, and godspeed.