Resident's Widow Has Succession Rights to Unit
Facts: A Section 8 occupant sued the site owner, claiming that she was rightfully entitled to occupy the unit because she was the widow and licensee of the resident, who died in 2007.
At trial, the owner's sole witness was the site manager, who testified that the tenant of record was the occupant's husband. The site manager testified that the husband moved into the unit on July 1, 2007, and died five days later on July 6, 2007. The site manager further testified that the file for the unit did not contain any reference to the occupant.
The occupant testified that she married the tenant in 2003. Three years later, the couple moved to New York so the husband could receive medical treatment in Manhattan. On June 29, 2007, the husband signed a series of documents, including a lease, for the unit.
On July 1, 2007, the couple moved into the unit. Within the next few days, the occupant, at her husband's insistence, called the management office to make sure that she could sign the lease. The occupant testified that personnel at the management office told her that she needed to come in with her Social Security card, birth certificate, photo identification, and a copy of her marriage certificate. She told a woman at the management office that she didn't have her marriage certificate and that she would need a few days to go to Connecticut to obtain a copy of it. The woman then told the occupant that she could come into the management office on July 9, and sign the lease as the spouse.
On July 9, the occupant called the management office and informed an employee there that her husband had died in the unit on July 6. She testified that during this phone call, she informed the office that she was trying to have her name added to the lease. She testified that someone in the management office told her “not to worry about it” and gave her an appointment on July 13 to come in with her documents.
The occupant testified that on July 13 she met with the site manager, who photocopied her documents. During this meeting, the site manager gave the occupant a letter stating that she lived in the unit and that she could keep a dog. But she was not given a lease to sign.
Over the next five months, the occupant testified, she called and/or visited the management office to sign a lease at least four times. On some occasions, the office staff told her to be patient and that it would “not be a problem” to add her to the lease; at other times, management staff told her that the person who was to sign the lease on the site's behalf was not available.
The occupant testified that by December 2007, she had concluded that the owner was not going to give her a lease.
Decision: The court ruled that the resident could succeed to her husband's tenancy.
Reasoning: Succession to a project-based Section 8 tenancy is based on the United States Housing Act and its regulations, which generally recognizes the entire family as the tenant. Additional family members in a project-based Section 8 household require the approval of the private owner. In addition, the HUD Handbook requires a remaining family member to be a party to the underlying lease. Section 8 guarantees continued protection to every legitimate member of the family unit in occupancy, the court noted. It recognizes that no such family member should suffer eviction, dislocation, and homelessness upon the death of the tenant of record.
However, the court explained, those who assume occupancy simply to succeed to a Section 8 tenancy are not remaining family members; rather, they are mere interlopers who are not protected by federal law. The owner, relying upon the HUD Handbook, incorrectly argued that the absence of the occupant's name from the lease and recertification forms renders her a mere interloper and bars her succession claim.
The genuineness of the wife's co-occupancy of the unit with her late husband as a family was amply established, said the court. The owner never contested the legitimacy of the wife's occupancy; in fact, when she called the management office to be added to her husband's lease, an employee there advised her of what documents she needed to bring and told her that she could sign a lease as early as July 9, 2007.
- Bronx 361 Realty v. Quinones, March 2010