To Commit Fraud Or Not To Commit Fraud

That Can Be The Non-Traditional Family Right Of Succession To Rent Regulated Apartments Question

*UPDATED: 10/5/2015

To Commit Fraud Or Not To Commit Fraud | That Can Be The Non-Traditional Family Right Of Succession To Rent Regulated Apartments Question

Imagine this scenario: John Doe #1 lives in a rent regulated two bedroom Upper West Side apartment with two bathrooms and a terrace and pays $416.00 per month.  He has been living there for 35 years.  He is single, never been married and has no children.  He is 70 years old.  John Doe #1 is an upstanding member of the community and dines out regularly at the local neighborhood restaurant.  During one such occasion, he meets John Doe #2, who is a 25 year old waiter and tells John Doe #1 that he, John Doe #2 has been crashing on his friends’ couches at various apartments.

John Doe #1 invites John Doe #2 to stay in the apartment with him, until John Doe #2 gets stable and back on his feet.  Two years later, John Doe #1 dies and John Doe #2 receives a letter from the landlord of the rent regulated apartment, asking him to vacate the apartment.  John Doe #2 responds, via letter, stating that he, John Doe #2 is entitled to succession rights to John Doe #1’s rent regulated, two bedroom, two-bathroom-with-balcony-apartment, at $416.00 per month.

Unbeknownst to the landlord, when John Doe #2 first moved into the apartment, he started sharing utility bills with John Doe #1 and contributing a portion of the rent to John Doe #1, to demonstrate his appreciation for John Doe #1’s generosity, while ensuring that John Doe #1 provide him with receipts for the contributed portion of the rent.  John Doe #2 begins having parties with his friends at the apartment and begins taking various photographs of himself and John Doe #1 and their “mutual friends.”  John Doe #2 begins accompanying his roommate, John Doe #1 to restaurants, the movies, art galleries and the supermarket, while telling everyone they meet in the neighborhood that John Doe #1 is his grandfather.  John Doe #2 celebrates John Doe #1’s birthday.  Although John Doe #2 contemplated taking out a life insurance policy naming John Doe #1 as a beneficiary or opening a joint bank account, he decides against those ideas.

Under these circumstances, whether orchestrated or not, John Doe #2 could indeed claim succession rights to the $416.00 rent regulated apartment.

Historically, succession rights to rent regulated apartments were based on traditional family members.  Parents to children or legally adopted children, or spouses etc.  However, the Court of Appeals of the State of New York in the landmark case of Braschi v. Stahl Associates, 74 N.Y.2d 201 (1989), extended the definition of the term “family” to people who did not formalize their relationship in the traditional sense.  Rightfully, the Court of Appeals held that “protection from eviction should be based upon an objective examination of the relationships, the level of emotional and financial commitment, the manner in which the parties conducted their lives and the reliance placed on one another for daily services.” Id.

Since the Braschi case, there have been a number of decisions in favor of the non-traditional family relationship based on the criteria established in Braschi as they pertain to succession rights for rent regulated apartments.

In the recent case of WSC Riverside Drive Owners LLC v. Williams, 2015 NY Slip Op 01158, decided on February 10, 2015, the Appellate Division, First Department (covering Manhattan and the Bronx), held that respondent Williams met the definition of family and was therefore entitled to succession rights to the decedent tenant of record’s rent regulated apartment.  According to the evidence obtained at trial, respondent Williams resided with the deceased tenant of record for eight years prior to her death.  The evidence at trial also demonstrated that the two relied on each other to pay household expenses, shared holidays and birthday celebrations and traditionally ate meals together in the apartment.  The Appellate Division found that the lower court credited the testimony of friends and neighbors who described the respondent Williams and the now-deceased tenant of record as a couple.  The Court found that during the last two years of the tenant of record’s life, respondent Williams spent a substantial amount of time caring for her.  The Appellate Division, First Department found that although the two maintained separate bank accounts and credit cards, they relied on each other and owned an apartment together.  The Appellate Division, First Department held “…the modest intermingling of finances does not negate the conclusion that Singer and respondent had a family-like relationship.  It is important to note that in considering whether a person may  be considered a ‘family member’ for the purpose of succession, ‘no single factor shall be solely determinative.’” Id.

With the interpretation of family being extended and the criteria outlined in Braschi and the recent cases granting succession rights to non-traditional family members, have the courts opened the flood gates for claims that may be based on fraudulent grounds for succession as mentioned in the scenario between John Doe #1 and John Doe #2?

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