Woman's Partner Wins Bid to Succeed in Apartment (with decision)

Woman's Partner Wins Bid to Succeed in Apartment
Andrew Denney
New York Law Journal
February 13, 2015

See decision below

An appellate court ruled Tuesday that a deceased woman's partner and longtime roommate should be entitled to succeed her in a rent-controlled apartment, saying that their "modest" intermingling of finances does not negate their "family-like" relationship.

Writing in WSC Riverside Drive Owners LLC v. Williams, 571144/12, the Appellate Division, First Department, reversed a 2013 opinion by the Appellate Term, First Department, that effectively granted a landlord's holdover petition denying Oliver Williams' succession into a rent-controlled apartment leased by Judy Singer.

Before Singer's death in 2010, she and Williams had resided in the apartment for eight years. They relied on each other to pay household expenses, shared holiday and birthday celebrations and traveled together for summer and weekend vacations.

Additionally, Williams cared for Singer during the last two years of her life as she struggled with depression and illness. He was listed as Singer's "partner" on hospital records and signed forms as her "personal representative."

The First Department, upholding a 2012 ruling from Manhattan Civil Court Judge Sabrina Kraus (NYLJ, June 5, 2012), wrote that while Williams and Singer maintained separate bank accounts and credit cards, "no single factor shall be solely determinative" in deciding whether someone should be considered a family member.

Catharine Grad, a partner at Grad & Weinraub, represented the landlord. Steven Sperber, a partner at Sperber Denenberg & Kahan, represented Williams.

Note: The article incorrectly stated that Catharine Grad represented the landlord. She represented the tenant.

DECISION

WSC Riverside Drive Owners LLC, Petitioner-Respondent v. Oliver Williams, Respondent-Appellant, 571144/12; 13405
February 17, 2015
Cite as: WSC Riverside Drive Owners v. Williams, 571144/12, NYLJ 1202717844312, at (App. Div., 1st, Decided February 10, 2015)
571144/12; 13405
Before: Mazzarelli, J.P., Acosta, DeGrasse, Clark, JJ.
Decided: February 10, 2015

ATTORNEYS

For appellant: Catharine A. Grad of counsel, Grad & Weinraub, LLP, New York.
For respondent: Steven B. Sperber of counsel, Sperber Denenberg & Kahan, P.C., New York.

Order of the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court, First Department, entered December 19, 2013, which reversed an order of the Civil Court, New York County (Sabrina B. Kraus, J.), entered on or about May 30, 2012, and, upon reversal, granted landlord's holdover petition seeking denial of respondent's succession to a rent controlled tenancy, unanimously reversed, on the law and the facts, without costs, the petition denied, and the proceeding dismissed. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly.

The evidence presented to the trial court amply supported its conclusion that respondent's relationship with the now deceased tenant of record, Ms. Singer, was that of a family member entitled to succeed Singer's rent controlled tenancy pursuant to 9 NYCRR §2204.6(d)(3). Respondent lived with Singer for 8 years prior to her death. The two relied upon each other for payment of household expenses. They shared holidays and birthday celebrations, traveled together for summer and weekend vacations and traditionally ate their meals together in the subject apartment. The trial court credited the testimony of friends and neighbors who described respondent and Singer as a couple that some believed or assumed were married. Further, respondent and Singer took care of each other. Notably, during the last 2 years of Singer's life, respondent spent substantial time caring for her as she struggled with depression and bouts of colitis. Hospital records listed respondent as Singer's "partner" and he signed consent forms for her as a "personal representative."

While respondent and Singer maintained separate bank accounts and credit cards, they owned an apartment together and relied on each other to pay expenses wherein respondent paid for household expenses such as groceries, supplies and the rent when Singer was unable to pay due to debilitating depression. As such, 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" (9 NYCRR §2204.6[d][3]).

Moreover, the factual findings of the trial court should not be disturbed upon appeal unless it is obvious that its conclusions could not be reached under any fair interpretation of the evidence. This is especially true when considering findings of fact that rest largely on the credibility of witnesses (Claridge Gardens v. Menotti, 160 AD2d 544, 544-545 [1st Dept 1990]; Nightingale Rest. Corp. v. Shak Food Corp., 155 AD2d 297 [1st Dept 1989], lv denied 76 NY2d 702 [1990]). Here, the record presents facts showing that the couple held themselves out to society as a family unit, and that this impression was substantiated by a caring, long term emotional, and financial commitment and interdependence (see Braschi v. Stahl Assoc. Co., 74 NY2d 201, 212-213 [1989]).

THIS CONSTITUTES THE DECISION AND ORDER OF THE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION, FIRST DEPARTMENT.

FEBRUARY 10, 2015

ENTERED: