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Uncle died/suffered in decrepit apartment; negligence case?

NYC Rent Regulation: Rent Control/Rent Stabilized, DHCR Practice/Procedures

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Uncle died/suffered in decrepit apartment; negligence case?

Postby tenantquestions » Thu Dec 26, 2019 2:33 pm

My estranged uncle recently passed away due to complications from cancer that had gone undetected until a few weeks before his death. He became very weak in his final days to the point where he became completely immobile and therefore dehydrated. A concerned friend who hadn't heard from him in a while called 911 to check on him. He was hospitalized and died several days later. My uncle's doctors noted if he hadn't been hospitalized when he was, he would have died of dehydration within less than a day.

My uncle lived in an illegally converted basement of a rent-stabilized duplex. He had a roommate who lived on the top floor, and the staircase b/w that floor and the basement was completely boarded up. The paramedics who hospitalized my uncle tell me there was a delay in evacuating my uncle from the basement b/c this one staircase was inaccessible, and the exit the ultimately took through a courtyard passage was very narrow. Additionally, HPD has confirmed that the staircase, even if it wasn't blocked, was too narrow as per regulations (believe he said egress regulations). Separately, HPD noted a number of other issues with the illegally converted basement: pervasive mold making the bathroom unusable, defective ventilation, defective smoke & carbon monoxide detectors, unsafe/exposed electric wiring, water leaks from the ceiling, and an infestation of rodents and insects. The HPD agent said it's the worst situation he's ever seen in his career. The building has been cited and will be fined.

I'm wondering if there is any action I should consider taking against my uncle's landlord. It pains me to think that he spent his final months living in such pure squalor. Beyond this, I wonder if there is any sort of case to be made that my uncle would have lived longer if not for the egress violations that delayed the paramedics from hospitalizing him, violations that presumably would have made it difficult for my uncle to seek help himself in his weakened condition. Any guidance would be appreciated.
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Re: Uncle died/suffered in decrepit apartment; negligence ca

Postby TenantNet » Thu Dec 26, 2019 3:06 pm

Complicated situation. First, are you sure the unit is RS? How do you know? Is there a RS lease? If illegal, it might not be RS. Most basement units in NYC are illegal and not RS. Also, see if it's a basement or a cellar. See https://jorgefontan.com/cellar-vs-basement/

HPD will have rules on units like this, and can determine if it's legal for habitation, or not.

Second, did the uncle leave a will or appoint an executor of the estate? That could be very important. If not, it might have to go through probate. I would talk to an estate attorney.

If you are the executor (or personal representative), then you might have legal standing to hold onto the apartment until the current lease expires (which is why it being RS is important). If you have possession of the unit (rent is still required), then you would have standing to make complaints with DOB and HPD and give access to inspectors. If you don't have standing and possession, then it would be very hard to enforce as the LL knows how to ward off inspectors.

You can probably get various violations placed (document everything, all letters, record conversations with the landlord and take MANY photos of the place). That might force the LL to make repairs or changes, or to ban the unit from being used as an apartment again. But it's hard to watch what the LL does as time goes by.

As for violations of the warranty of habitability and lack of egress, and any pain/suffering the uncle might have suffered, that seems to be a harder lift. But maybe not impossible. You would have to consult with a tenant attorney. But remember, only the estate can make those claims, and seek an abatement from the rent that was paid. Something like that might necessitate a court trial,and if you have a lawyer, that will cost money.
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