Owner Must Disclose Documents to Occupant Claiming Succession Rights
Facts: After the death of a Section 8 resident, an owner sought to evict a person living in the unit. The occupant claimed succession rights and tried to prove that he lived with the tenant for more than a year before she died from cancer, and that they were involved in an emotionally and financially committed nontraditional family relationship, thus entitling him to succeed to the lease for the unit. The occupant asked the owner to provide:
- Documents, records, and communications regarding the approval of requests to add persons to the lease and/or annual income recertifications;
- The tenant file of the resident for the period 2010 to the current date;
- Documents and recertifications, communications, and notations relating to receipt and processing of any requests by the resident to add the occupant to the lease and/or annual income recertifications;
- Documents, recertifications, communications, and notations that in any way refer to the occupant as in some manner associated with the resident or the unit;
- Documents, recertifications, communications, and notations that in any way refer to the occupant as residing in the unit; and
- Any leases or annual certification forms for the unit since 2010.
The occupant argued that these documents are in the sole custody of the owner and he doesn’t have access to the information regarding any requests by the resident to add him to the household composition.
The owner argued that without written authorization from the tenant, “privacy concerns” and the HUD Handbook preclude it from disclosing the information. Specifically, the owner cited Chapter 5-19 of the HUD Handbook, which subjects it to civil penalties for unauthorized disclosure of income information and demographic data collected through the Enterprise Income Verification system and other acceptable sources.
Ruling: A New York court granted the individual’s request and ordered the owner to provide the requested documents.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the occupant adequately demonstrated the need for disclosure. The documents could bolster his claim that he and the resident maintained a nontraditional family relationship as potentially proven by the resident’s attempts to add him to the household composition to ensure he wasn’t displaced after her death.
In New York, nontraditional family members are conferred the same opportunity to succeed to tenancies as tenants in traditional relationships. But the court acknowledged that proving a nontraditional family member relationship is more complex than simply proving lineage and time frame. Thus, occupants who seek succession rights through nontraditional relationships have a greater need for access to information that would support their claim of financial and emotional interdependence. The court limited the occupant’s request for documents to the two years before the resident’s death, from March 2016 through March 2018, the only period during which the occupant believes the resident may have tried to add him to the lease.
- PRC Westchester Ave., LLC v. Feliciano, October 2019