Schenectady woman sued city for ‘order to vacate’ process — and won

October 3, 2022

Gail Brown moved into a new apartment in early 2020 with her partner, adult son and several grandchildren.


The home in the city’s Goose Hill neighborhood was supposed to be a fresh start. But Brown’s life was cast into upheaval when she was laid off from her job at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. She was also grappling with several issues at her new home, including second-floor windows that wouldn’t open.

Brown ultimately ended up living at a hotel, caught in the dueling vortex of the pandemic and a complicated issue with which the city has long grappled:  How to enforce its “order to vacate” process.


The order has a degree of ambiguity that has led to several high-profile gaps in the process, including when the city attempted to evict occupants of the problem-plagued Wedgeway in late 2019 over unsafe conditions, an order tenants ignored until authorities cut power to the building.


Earlier that year, a house fire in the city’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood exposed potentially life-threatening gaps in the procedure when the city acknowledged there was no way to enforce emergency eviction orders.


Two years ago, Brown called the city’s code enforcement bureau after unsuccessfully trying to get her landlord to fix the problems at the Carrie Street apartment she lived in at the time. The owner repaired some of the issues, but not all, and a codes officer deemed the repairs sufficient without inspecting the unit, according to court documents.


The owner later submitted an updated landlord registration form, which triggered a formal inspection by a code enforcement officer that October.


Since some windows still wouldn’t open – and the inspection revealed an electrical violation — the city declared the unit unsafe, forcing Brown and her three-year-old grandson to move into a hotel. There she paid a rate that was almost double her monthly rent.


“With tenants, a lot of time, they have to choose between reporting an issue and becoming homeless and not reporting an issue in their apartment,” said David Crossman, the then-Legal Aid Society lawyer who handled Brown’s case.


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