by Christopher Bacas
Eviction begins with a sheaf of papers, hand-delivered, addressed to the tenant, known thereafter as "Respondent". Attorneys employ a process server to ensure proper service. Any improprieties are grounds to dismiss and the Petionner files anew. Respondents often agree to waive this technicality. They are standing in front of a judge in a packed courtroom. They've taken off work, made arrangements for family and already waited four or five hours. Unless the tenant disputes non-payment itself, it's better to proceed.
Our papers arrived in the mail; envelope a bulging fish, its paper crinkled into rows of scales and ball-point lettering murky. When I opened it, bracing saline flooded my belly. The terms were stark: without a timely response, Marshalls would forcibly remove us and all our possessions. My family home was remarkably stable. As a young professional, I'd spent 600 nights in motels, I wasn't prepared to spend much time on the streets.
Eviction papers require a tenant to answer in person. In each borough, a special court convenes for housing cases. In Brooklyn, the court building is downtown, wedged in a sprawl of vertiginous modern gantries, gaslight storefronts and acres of cheap, street-level shopping. The entrance floor is a glassed box, furnished with two walk-through metal detectors, their conveyor belts, and steel tables stacked with tubs for personal items. The hard faces and surly voices of the entry guards clarify the tenants' place: slightly above farm animal. Beyond the gauntlet, a bank of elevators, squalling up and down on greaseless cables. Indicator lights broken, mostly shuttling between upper floors, they arrive every 15 minutes or so. Even for the infirm, the stairs are quicker and actually, more dignified. Officers of the Court enter quickly on the side, through a secure door into a private elevator.