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Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. Wins Non-Traditional Family Succession Trial for Landlord

Representing the landlord in a multi-day trial, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. prevailed in a non-traditional family succession holdover proceeding. Finding that the occupant was more of a roommate than a family member to the deceased tenant of record, the court awarded final judgment of possession against the occupant and in favor of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s client.

When a tenant of record in New York City dies or permanently vacates a rent-regulated apartment, the law allows certain individuals to succeed to that tenant’s tenancy and remain in the apartment under the continued protections of rent regulation. Such would-be successor must prove a certain relationship with the tenant of record and must also prove that he or she co-resided with the tenant for a requisite amount of time. If the pair do no share a defined blood relationship or are not married, succession can still be established if the occupant can prove that the pair shared a family-like relationship. As a result, roommates of rent-regulated tenants, or family members who do not actually co-reside in the apartment with the tenant, often try to abuse the system and keep the apartment by feigning a family-like relationship or co-residency.

In this case, the occupant moved into a rent-regulated apartment with the tenant years ago. There was no dispute that the pair co-resided together for at least the requisite two years. However, the occupant did not share a blood relationship with the tenant and the two were never married. She was decades younger than the tenant and originally moved in as a roommate. She paid a portion of the rent and the utilities and alleged that the pair shared other expenses.

When the tenant of record passed away, the occupant refused to leave. She demanded a lease in her own name claiming that she was like family with the now-deceased tenant and that she was entitled to remain in the apartment as the new rent-regulated tenant.

The landlord turned to Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. for help and we immediately began building a case. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. performed a detailed background search on the occupant and the tenant. Working together with the landlord, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. located the tenant’s only known relative in a different state and interviewed her about the tenant and the occupant. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. commenced a holdover case against the occupant and immediately moved for and obtained an order directing the occupant to pay use and occupancy while the case progressed. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. also obtained an order allowing the firm to conduct discovery of the occupant’s claims, including collecting written documents and deposing her.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. served detailed document demands to ascertain what proof the occupant had in support of her succession claim. The responses revealed that the occupant did not share financial accounts with the tenant. Despite the tenant being extremely ill the occupant was not the tenant’s health care proxy. She was also not named in his will and was not the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. The occupant lacked pictures of herself with the tenant. However, the occupant had a notarized affidavit from the tenant in which he asked for her to be added to the lease as a family member.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. then deposed the occupant and pried into every corner of her life and the tenant’s life to ascertain all facts that the occupant could use against the landlord at trial and all facts that the landlord could use against the occupant. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. learned that, despite the scarcity of documentary evidence for the occupant, there was a host of building residents who were allegedly ready to testify on the occupant’s behalf to corroborate her alleged familial relationship with the tenant.

The parties engaged in settlement discussions, but when the occupant withdrew her offer and tripled it, the landlord decided to go to trial.

At trial, the occupant testified, with tears in her eyes, about how she took great care of the tenant, even when he was gravely ill, took him to medical appointments, spent time with him, and how she considered herself and the tenant family.

Several building residents testified on the occupant’s behalf. They testified that they observed the occupant with the tenant, that the occupant took good care of the tenant and that they considered the pair as family.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. cross-examined each witness in great detail to show what the tenant and occupant lacked in their relationship. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. demonstrated on cross-examination that the pair never exchanged a holiday or birthday card, never took a picture together, never traveled together, lacked joint financial accounts or obligations, and were not associated with the other’s medical insurance. Additionally, the occupant did not make any medical decisions on the tenant’s behalf, the pair did not share any utility accounts, and the tenant never met the occupant’s real family which also lives in New York. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. was also able to elicit testimony from the occupant admitting that she was not the tenant’s sole caretaker and that there were other friends who would accompany the tenant to hospital and doctor’s visits.

The court decided in the landlord’s favor holding that the occupant failed to meet her burden to show a sufficient family-like relationship with the tenant. The court awarded a judgment of possession in favor of the landlord and against the occupant.

Vladimir Mironenko of Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. represented the landlord and conducted the trial.

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