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Rochester to have a permanent housing court by year’s end

James Brown

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed Assembly Bill A1131A, cementing the court into law on Friday.

A policy from the 7th Judicial District, which includes Monroe County, established a section for housing in City Court in 2020. The Rochester Housing Court Act beefs up that section by calling for a dedicated judge with what the bill’s co-author Assemblyman Harry Bronson calls “broad powers” on adjudicating matters like evictions, landlord tenant grievances, violations of city codes and ordinances.

Bronson, a Rochester Democrat, has been working with housing advocates locally and statewide on these issues for several years. With the volume of houses in disrepair and violations of existing city codes, Bronson said the area needs a judge with this specific expertise.

“We strongly believe that this will help the housing stock, and create a better venue for landlords and tenants to have their disputes solved,” said Bronson. “What we really needed is a focus here in the city of Rochester and that is what this court is going to do.” 

According to state Sen. Jeremy Cooney, another Rochester-area Democrat who sponsored the bill in the State Senate, the bill was an opportunity to make an impact on Rochester-specific issues. He called the dedicated court a spin on Buffalo’s longstanding housing court, which has been active since the 1970s. One of the key changes includes an advisory board of community members, experts, and thought leaders appointed to provide analysis on the court’s effectiveness.

“Folks who can take a look at how this new housing court is operating, and whether we’re meeting the needs of the community both from the homeowner perspective as well as from the tenant or renter perspective,” said Cooney.

Both Cooney and Bronson mentioned conversations with housing advocates and specialists like the Legal Aid Society’s Mark Muoio for bringing the issue to their attention. Muoio has participated in conversations about a potential housing court for years. Over time, he said the court could help make finding housing in Rochester a level playing field. 

“What I’m hoping for is that people can have decent and affordable places to live, that is the goal,” said Muoio. 

Much of Rochester’s delegation co-sponsored the bill including Democrats State Senator Samra Brouk, and Assemblymembers Sarah Clark, Jennifer Lunsford, and Demond Meeks.

The new court is expected to be up and running by mid-December. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.