Our firm often fields inquiries from clients regarding successor rights in New York residential rental apartments. The first issue which needs to be determined is whether the premises in question are subject to rent regulation. Rent regulation in New York State applies to many, but not all, residential units. It is more prevalent in New York City than in its surrounding suburbs. However, it does also cover many rental units in Westchester and Nassau Counties.
Whether an apartment is subject to rent regulation depends on many factors. Defining these factors is beyond the scope of this blog post. It may depend on the number of units in the building, the age and history of the building, and whether the owner accepted certain government benefits or loans. A rent regulated unit will generally be subject to the rent stabilization laws of New York State or the local municipality in which the unit is located. Generally, only cities with large populations will have apartment units subject to rent regulation.
There are local government offices, known as the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) which maintain databases allowing for a tenant to determine if their unit is rent regulated.
If a unit is subject to rent regulation, then the rent is determined by a complex formula, rather than by its fair market value. The local DHCR office will be able to advise on what the proper rent should be under the applicable rent regulations, including supplying a history of the regulated rent amounts that prior tenants have paid. Experienced counsel can also research these issues to determine whether the tenant is paying the correct rental amount pursuant to the rent regulations, or whether they are being overcharged.
Successor rights come into play when a rent-regulated tenant passes away, or simply moves out of the unit and no longer maintains it as her primary residence. In that case, certain family members may be able to assume the lease and continue living in the unit under the same regulated rent as the original tenant. A family member who has resided in the apartment with the named tenant on the lease for at least two years prior to the death or departure of the primary tenant is entitled to a renewal lease at the same regulated rent. If the successor tenant is a senior citizen or disabled person, they would only have to reside in the tenant for one year prior to the death or departure of the original tenant.
The next question would be who is a family member. The definition of family member in this situation is quite flexible and may include a spouse, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, in-laws, and grandparents, as well as other relatives. It may also include a person who can prove emotional and financial commitment and interdependence between such person and the tenant, such as a same sex partner or other longtime companion.
If a family member qualifies for succession rights, they have a right to a renewal lease and protection from eviction. In addition, the first family member to establish succession rights is not required to pay the owner a vacancy increase, which is a statutory increase in the rent for a new tenant under the rent regulations. However, the next family member after the first successor would have to pay a vacancy rent increase, the amount of which would be determined by the applicable rent regulations.
Rent regulations are quite complex in New York, and we encourage all tenants whose rental units may be subject to rent stabilization and who may be entitled to a lease renewal as a successor tenant to contact our firm to discuss their legal rights.