Illegal Evictions / Illegal Lockouts

What is an illegal eviction?

A warrant of eviction must be obtained through court to remove anyone from an apartment who has a lease or other written contract (even if it has expired); who has ever paid rent to live there; or who has lived at least 30 days in the apartment (even if the person never had a lease or written agreement and/or never paid rent). This means that if your landlord wants you out of your apartment, they must take you to court in either a holdover eviction or a nonpayment eviction and get a judgement of possession and a warrant. Only a marshal or sheriff with a court order can perform the eviction.

If your landlord removes or attempts to remove you from your apartment by:

  • Using or threatening to use force
  • Interrupting or discontinuing essential services (heat, electricity, water)
  • Removing the occupant’s possessions from the dwelling
  • Removing the entrance door
  • Removing, plugging or rendering inoperable the entrance door lock
  • Changing the lock on an entrance door that requires a key

this is an unlawful or illegal eviction.

Are illegal evictions common in New York? 

It is much more common for landlords to threaten tenants that they will perform an illegal eviction (and for primary tenants to threaten this to their family members or roommates) than for them to actually perform these illegal evictions. Landlords sometimes threaten by phone or letter that if you don’t pay the rent, or move out, they will put your stuff on the street. It would be illegal for them to do this, and many landlords who threaten to do this are not actually willing to risk arrest by following through with their threat.

What can I do if I am illegally evicted or locked out?

If you are illegally locked out, or if your landlord keeps you out with threats of violence, or if your landlord cuts off essential services such as electricity or water as a means of forcing you out, you can call the police or go to the nearest precinct to be let back in.

You can also go to your local Housing Court to file an illegal lockout case, and get a court order allowing you to return. If you feel that there is a real threat, carry with you proof that you live in the apartment (rent receipts, utility bills, a piece of delivered mail, or other identification showing the address).

See below for more about the police and court procedures.

How can I get the police to help me get back in my apartment after an illegal lockout?

New York City police officers are empowered to return tenants to apartments they were illegally locked out of, and to arrest landlords who attempt to block the tenant from regaining entry. In order to get help from the police, you should have identification on you that establishes that you live in the apartment.

The police will first try to determine if it was an illegal lockout or not. If the eviction was performed by a marshal, and you believe that proper procedures were not followed, you will need to address this in the courts. If you were illegally locked out, the police will then accompany you back to the apartment and order the landlord, super, manager or other person to let you back in. If that fails, the police have the power to arrest the person who illegally locked you out. Be prepared to give the police contact information or the whereabouts of the person who locked you out. If the police do not assist you in regaining entry, ask to speak to a supervisor and direct them to Section #241-12 of the Patrolman’s Guide.

How can I get a court order to get back in my apartment after an illegal lockout?

If you do not feel safe calling the police or if the police cannot or will not let you back into your apartment, you will need to go to the Housing Court in your borough and file an illegal lock out case. You will need a mailing or delivery address (not a PO Box) for the person who locked you out, or for the person who is responsible. For example, if the super locked you out under the orders of the landlord, you can start this case against the landlord. However, if a roommate or prime tenant locked you out, you will need to sue the roommate or prime tenant.

You can file this case in one day and get a hearing in court usually within one or two days. There is a filing fee to file the case, but you can ask that the fee be waived (if you are low income, or if your money is not available to you because of the lock out). Tell the court officer at the court entrance that you need to file an illegal lock out case and go to that clerk. In most of the city’s Housing Courts this is done at the cashier’s window where landlords file cases, not in the usual area where tenants file HP Actions or answer nonpayments. In the Bronx, the case must be filed at the courthouse at 861 Grand Concourse (corner of East 161st Street), not the Housing Court building at 1118 Grand Concourse (East 166th Street). Be sure to ask before getting in line to wait.

You will fill out the court forms and wait for a judge to sign the papers. Once they are signed, you will need to serve the person who locked you out or the landlord right away. Follow the service instructions on the court papers EXACTLY or your case will be dismissed. If you have questions about the forms, you can get help at the court’s Help Center.

You will have a hearing either the next day or in two days in front of a judge. If you are able to convince the judge that you were illegally locked out, the judge will order the person to let you back in. Usually arrangements are made in court for access. Sometimes, the landlord does not appear in court. If you can prove that you served the landlord correctly, you will be able to get a court order which orders the landlord to restore you to possession. If you need more help with this, speak the judge’s court attorney or go the court’s Help Center.

Where to go in each borough:

  • Bronx 851 Grand Concourse (161st Street) Bronx, NY 10451 718-466-3025
  • Brooklyn 141 Livingston Street Brooklyn, NY 11201 347-404-9200
  • Queens 89-17 Sutphin Boulevard Jamaica, NY 11435 718-262-7145
  • Manhattan 111 Centre Street New York, NY 10013 646-386-5500 
  • Staten Island 927 Castleton Avenue Richmond, NY 10301 718-675-8431

What do I do if I find out that the marshal evicted me but I didn’t receive notices?

If you go to court to do an illegal lock out case, the court clerk will probably check to see if there was an eviction case brought against you and if there was a warrant issued just to make sure that you were illegally locked out. If there was a case, you will need to file different papers to get back in – usually an Order to Show Cause to restore to possession. Even if you were locked out by a city marshal without receiving notice, you will have to list your defenses and excuses on the papers. For example, you might have to explain why you did not come to court in the case and why you don’t owe rent arrears, or if you do owe rent, how you will pay the arrears. Usually judges require tenants in these situations to prove that they can pay all of the back rent; sometimes they require the tenant pay legal fees and the marshal’s fees as well.

For a list of the regulations that city marshals must follow, review the NYC Marshals Handbook of Regulations — Evictions and Legal Possessions: Procedures governing the execution of warrants of eviction.

What should I look for on a marshal’s notice?

The marshal’s notice must contain your name, the marshal’s name, address, telephone number, and badge number; the name and county of the court; the title of the action, including the index number; the address of the premises, including a designation or description of the rooms or apartments concerned; a statement in bold type designating the notice as a notice of eviction; the date of the notice. If your name is not the the notice you cannot be evicted.

How much notice will I get from the marshal?

Marshals must give you fourteen days notice from when the notice is posted to when you are evicted.

How do I get the landlord to pay for illegally evicting me?

If the landlord (or your roommate or prime tenant) locked you out illegally and damaged, discarded, or destroyed your belongings, you can sue the person for damages. You can talk to an attorney in the Housing Court Help Center for help. You might have seek compensation in a different court (Small Claims Court, Civil Court, or Supreme Court, depending on the value of your losses and the situation).

Why do landlords usually threaten to illegally evict tenants?

In some cases, small landlords don’t even realize that they have to evict people through the courts. Simply telling your landlord that what they threatened to do is illegal will be enough to stop them from performing an illegal eviction. Your landlord probably doesn’t want to face criminal and civil penalties.

Sometimes landlords threaten illegal evictions to avoid the cost and hassle of starting a legal eviction case. Even if you may eventually be evicted through the courts (maybe because you have not paid your rent, or because you are in an unregulated apartment and are not covered by a lease) your landlord still must follow legal procedures to evict you.

Some landlords threaten illegal evictions as a strategy of pushing out rent-stabilized or rent-controlled tenants who have lower rents, so to re-rent the apartment to someone else who will pay much more money. Rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenants have very strong rights under the law, so some landlords who have no legal means to end a tenancy will make empty threats, hoping the tenant will be scared into moving out.

Remember: all tenants who have lived somewhere at least 30 days or have ever had rent accepted have the right to be brought to court if the landlord wants to evict them. This means even if your lease has expired or you never had a lease, your landlord cannot simply lock you out of your apartment; they must bring you to court and obtain a judgement of possession and a warrant of eviction. This includes tenants who may be living in “illegal” apartments–their landlords cannot simply throw them out. If an apartment is considered unsafe or illegal to be used as a residence, only a city agency can make that determination. All tenants have mechanisms to delay or even stop their evictions.