in rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments
- How do I prove 'financial interdependence' as a non-traditional family member? Is it necessary that I shared bank accounts and finances with the person I'm succeeding the apartment from?
- What's the process for asserting succession rights in a rent stabilized or rent controlled apartment?
- My landlord has asked me for additional information to prove that I have succession rights. What am I required to disclose? What will be enough?
- If I was away at college, at a work assignment in another location, or otherwise temporarily away for some or all of the past two years before my family member moved/died, am I still eligible for succession?
- I lived in an apartment for many years, and only recently moved away. Is there any way that I can retain my succession rights for my old apartment?
- My landlord rejected my succession claim and is now attempting to evict me from the apartment. What should I do?
- My landlord told me to continue paying the rent and/or sign the lease under the name of the person who moved or died. What should I do?
- The named tenant of the apartment died or moved away a while back. Ever since, I've been paying rent and/or signing leases under that person's name, not my own. What should I do? Can I assert succession rights after the fact?
You must have lived in the apartment with the prime tenant for the two years immediately prior to the prime tenant moving or dying—though if you are over 62 or disabled, the requirement is only one year. You also meet the time requirement if you moved into the apartment at the beginning of the tenancy (when the prime tenant first rented the apartment), or at the beginning of your family or family-like relationship with the prime tenant.
The following relatives automatically qualify as family members for the purposes of succession:
spouses: husband, wife (including legally married gay and lesbian spouses)
children: son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter,
parents: father, mother
siblings: sister, brother, step-sister, step-brother
grandparents and grandchildren
in-laws: father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law
adoptions : Courts recognize all of the family relations noted above for people who were legally adopted
Other cases: Extended family members who are not listed above may qualify for succession rights as nontraditional family members, but their blood relationship alone may not be enough.
Nonrelatives may also qualify for succession rights if they can establish that they are a “nontraditional family member” of the primary tenant.
- length of the relationship
- sharing of expenses other than the rent and utilities
- intermingling of finances—for example, sharing bank accounts that are regularly used by both people
- engaging in family- type activities
- formalization of legal obligations and responsibilities between the two parties (naming each other in wills, health proxies, living wills, etc.)
- holding themselves out as family members through words or acts
- regular performance of family functions (appearing at each others' family weddings, funerals, reunions, etc.)
- any other pattern of behavior which shows tenants intended to create a long-term, emotionally committed relationship
The legal standard is showing an "emotionally and financially committed and interdependent relationship." Often this is demonstrated by financial intermingling (such as sharing the same bank account). However, tenants have successfully demonstrated succession rights when co-mingling of bank accounts and other finances did not exist.
How do I prove 'financial interdependence' as a non-traditional family member? Is it necessary that I shared bank accounts and finances with the person I'm succeeding the apartment from?
If your landlord refuses, you can file a complaint with New York State Homes and Community Renewal (Form RA-90), or simply keep a copy of the letter with proof of mailing for future use. The Rent Stabilization Code states that a tenant “shall have the right to have his or her spouse, whether husband or wife, added to the lease or any renewal thereof as an additional tenant where said spouse resides in the housing accommodation as his or her primary residence.”
If you consider yourself a nontraditional family member of the prime tenant, collect as much evidence as possible to prove that you and the prime tenant do more than just live together—that you are emotionally and financially committed and interdependent.
If the landlord asks who lives in the apartment, make sure that you are named. In rent-stabilized apartments, you should be listed as an “occupant” on renewal leases.
However, taking additional steps to notify the landlord of your intent to assert succession rights—whether by a letter or by using the DHCR’s notification form—isn’t always a good idea. You cannot begin the legal process ahead of time. Sending a letter or a form does not prove that you have succession rights, and it may result in scrutiny and harassment.
What's the process for asserting succession rights in a rent stabilized or rent controlled apartment?An important first step in claiming your succession rights is to notify the landlord that the prime tenant has moved away or died. You should do this right away and claim your right to the apartment in a letter that you send by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter and your proof of mailing. If the apartment is rent-stabilized, your letter should ask for the renewal lease to be sent in your name at renewal time. (Rent-controlled tenants do not have leases, so the lease request does not apply.)
Immediately begin sending the rent under your name—either a check from your personal bank account, or a money order with your name on it. If the landlord refuses or returns rent payments from you, refuses to change the name on the renewal lease to yours, or threatens to evict you, don’t be tricked into sending payments or signing leases in the name of the departed or deceased tenant. Even if the person who moved away is still available to sign a renewal lease, do not let that person continue to sign his/her name for that apartment. Your succession claim could be harmed if a renewal lease is signed, or if rent is paid, under the name of a person who moved away or died. Unscrupulous landlords often try to trick tenants into doing this so that the succession claim is put in jeopardy.
My landlord has asked me for additional information to prove that I have succession rights. What am I required to disclose? What will be enough?If your objective is to avoid a court case, you will want to give the landlord enough information to prove that you have a right to the apartment. You can block out any sensitive information you do not want the landlord to have (such as Social Security numbers, health history, financial information on tax returns).
However, some landlords reject every succession claim as a matter of practice, no matter how clear and straightforward it is that the tenant has succession rights. They are hoping that the remaining family member will be so afraid of going to court that they will give up the apartment without a fight—and all too often, this dirty tactic works because tenants don’t understand their rights. If you have provided what you believe to be sufficient documentation of your succession claim, and the landlord is still not satisfied, you may want to consult an experienced tenant attorney and prepare for the possibility of going to court.