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Ask Sam: Can my landlord claim my apartment for himself, even though I'm a senior citizen?

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Question:

Q: The landlord served my wife and I with a non-renewal of lease notice on the grounds of "owner use," saying he wants to rent the apartment to a family member. I am 64 and my wife is 58. We've been living here for 18 years, and the apartment is rent-stabilized. Can we really be evicted for this, and does it make a difference that one of us is a senior citizen?

Answer:

While your landlord would normally be within their rights to move their family in and give you the boot, your status as a senior will protect you in this case, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

"'Owner use' is one of the grounds where an owner can evict a rent-stabilized tenants, and one of the only grounds that has nothing to do with tenants' actions," Himmelstein explains. (More details on this policy here.) As long as the building is individually owned (i.e. owned by a specific person rather than a larger developer or an LLC), the landlord is within their legal rights to move in family members and decline to renew your lease, even if it's stabilized. 

"The only requirement is that they be operating in 'good faith,' with an honest intent to occupy the apartment as they state, Himmelstein adds.

Luckily for you, your case poses an exception. While senior citizens don't generally have much in the way of additional protections under the rent laws, when it comes to 'owner use' cases, your age means your landlord can't simply tell you to leave at the end of your next lease. "If the tenant or the spouse of the tenant (not children or parents of the tenant) is 62 or over, or disabled," Himmelstein explains, the landlord is obligated to relocate you to a 'superior or equivalent housing accommodation' in close proximity to your current apartment, at at the same rent (or less than) what you're paying right now. Oh, and the new place has to be rent regulated, as well. 

These tough requirements mean that your landlord will likely drop their attempt to oust you rather than take on the onerous task of this kind of relocation, Himmelstein says. But if you can prove in court that their claims about moving their family to the building are disingenuous ("at least 50 percent of the cases I've seen like this were phony," Himmelstein notes), the landlord’s  'owner use' case will be dismissed, altogether, and the question of your relocation will be moot.

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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan.  To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.