In December 2013, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in Murphy v. DHCR, that a long-term Mitchell-Lama resident has succession rights even though his mother had not named him on one "income affidavit." Mr. Murphy was represented by HMGDJ partner Samuel Himmelstein. Three recent decisions, an Appellate Term, 2nd Department decision, a Housing Court (Kings County) decision and a DHCR Mitchell-Lama succession determination have cited Murphy in upholding succession claims.
In the case of 354 East 66th Street v. Curry, the son of the deceased rent stabilized tenant proved to the Housing Court that he had the right to succeed to his mother's tenancy. The Housing Court awarded Mr. Curry his attorneys' fees, and the landlord appealed. On appeal, the Appellate Term, First Department, ruled that Mr. Curry was entitled to his attorneys' fees based upon the terms of his mother's original lease dating from 1972. That lease contained a clause stating that the landlord could recover attorneys' fees in the event of a default by the tenant. Under the law (Real Property Law 234), where a lease allows a landlord to recover attorneys' fees, the tenant has an equal right to recover attorneys' fees if the tenant is the prevailing party in a court dispute. The lease also stated that its terms were binding upon successors-in-interest. Therefore, the Appellate Term stated, Mr. Curry was entitled to recover his attorneys' fees. This case is especially significant because there had been some previous court decisions interpreting provisions of old leases, such as the one in this case, in a manner unfavorable to tenants. This case appears to have settled the law, such that old lease provisions like the one in this case will allow for tenants, and their successors, to recover attorneys' fees when they prevail in court.
Over the years, I have successfully represented many clients in succession cases. In the past, succession rights cases were straightforward and simple. Generally, a practitioner would look at three (3) factors: (a) first, the date the tenant of record left or vacated the premises; (b) second, whether the person asserting succession rights and the tenant of record had a close traditional or "Braschi1" family relationship; and (c) third, whether the putative successor resided with the tenant of record for at least two years prior to the date the latter left or vacated. Succession was almost guaranteed to a remainder family member who could prove these three factors.