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After a Domestic Partner Dies

Until his recent death, my uncle lived in a rent-controlled apartment for more than 40 years. His life partner had lived with him there for most of those years, but the lease was only in my uncle’s name. My uncle’s life partner would like to stay put, but I am not sure whether he has any right to stay in the apartment under the same rent-controlled status.

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Your uncle’s partner should be able to remain in the apartment, since he was living there for more than two years before your uncle passed away, assuming he can support his claim. In New York State, both rent-stabilized and rent-controlled apartments provide tenants with succession rights for family members.

Since the couple were not married, the surviving partner would have to prove emotional and financial commitment and interdependence with your uncle, if the landlord challenged his claim. He could provide joint bank statements; photographs of the couple through the years; shared assets; wills and health care proxies.

If his evidence is indisputable, he could write a letter to the landlord demanding that his name be added to the lease. He could file a petition with Homes and Community Renewal, the state agency that oversees these apartments, to compel the landlord to give him a lease renewal.

“The couple may have filed at City Hall for a domestic partnership,” said Dov Treiman, a Manhattan lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant law. “If they did that, it’s game over for the landlord.”

If his evidence is weaker — if, for instance, the couple had some separate bank accounts — Mr. Treiman said he could wait until the lease expires to see if the landlord offers him a new one before raising the issue.

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