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Landlord not responding to application + death threats

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

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Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Thu Sep 12, 2019 11:34 pm

I entered into a written roommate agreement with the lease holder of a rent stabilized apartment in East Village this summer. My agreement was through the end of September, and the lease holder's lease also happened to be through the end of September. The lease holder sadly passed away in July. I informed the landlord of his passing and was told not to worry about paying rent for the time being. At my request, the landlord offered me an application to take over the lease. The landlord has been very unresponsive since I applied despite my sending emails and leaving messages.

I finally got a hold of the landlord over the phone two weeks ago. They indicated my application looked fine and told me they'd offer me a lease starting for September 1st on the condition that they receive a death certificate and Letters Tetamentary from the lease holder's estate. The estate emailed the landlord telling them that they're happy to offer these documents on the condition that the landlord give me a signed lease. The landlord has not responded since receiving this message.

To complicate matters, the lease holder's previous roommate of 3 years - who never had a written agreement and was asked to leave the apartment due to a history of criminal activity and death threats against the lease holder - has kept his keys to the apartment building and the apartment itself. This previous roommate entered the apartment with his keys last week and is threatening to sue me for stolen property as much of his previous furniture remains in the apartment. The previous roommate had to be escorted off the premises by the NYPD. The landlord is aware of this development, but the landlord has still yet to take action on my request that they change the locks for my safety and the safety of other residents in the building.

What rights do I have with the landlord given that I am not on the lease but do have a legally binding roommate agreement with the deceased lease holder? Should I send the landlord a rent check to cover rent for August and September? Why is the landlord not responding to me? Does the landlord have an obligation to change the locks? How long would it take the landlord to potentially evict me?
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Fri Sep 13, 2019 12:07 am

In general, when a RS tenant dies mid-lease, the estate of the tenant can hold onto the unit until the end of the lease, presuming rent is paid. LLs can bring suits just as if the tenant were still alive, but the estate would be the respondent. (with rent control, it's different).

One issue is who is the executor of the estate. If there is no will, the estate would have to go through probate and a court would decide who handles the deceased's affairs. That often is a relative or a close friend; absent that, the court sometimes appoints an attorney to that job.

For details, one should consult with an estate attorney (we really don't know much about estates).

I have seen cops chase roommates away (probably illegally). But OTOH, with sufficient proof, the roommate might also have occupancy or subtenant rights.

A roommate does not have any rights to take over the unit. Of course if a LL is amenable, the unit can be offered to the roommate just as if it is a vacancy lease, and of course depending on the situation with the estate.

As to the prior roommate, the estate can change the locks. The estate still has tenancy rights, at least until the end of September. The LL can change the locks to the building, but of course that's a big hassle with other tenants, and unlikely to happen.

As for the prior roommate's possessions, it's probably a good idea for the estate to deal directly with him. You should stay out of it. One could claim he abandoned the items; i.e., they are not stolen. If there is a real dispute, it can be handled in court.

So until you have a lease, you really have no rights other than the roommate agreement, which is up in 2-3 weeks. Your obligation to pay rent is to the estate, not to the LL. And in turn, the estate has a rent obligation to the LL (that is, unless there are reasons to withhold rent).

I would keep the rent in escrow for the time being and do not pay the LL. If you do pay the LL, the estate can still come after you for what you owe to the estate.

Why is the LL unresponsive? Who knows?

Given the short time until the lease and roommate agreements expire, and the LL's unresponsiveness, I would start thinking about plan B, i.e., looking for a new place. Of course once the agreement expires, the LL would have to go to court to remove you. They cannot just change the locks.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 3:51 am

The executor of the estate is an ex girlfriend of the deceased lease holder, who lived in the apartment years ago. I’m on good terms with her and she’s willing to offer the landlord the requested documents on the condition that they give me a signed lease.

Curious, if the landlord continues to not respond, can the executor get and sign the lease for themselves? They’ve discussed their willingness to do this and then sublease the apartment to me if the landlord continues to not respond.

Unrelated, this is a duplex unit, and the downstairs area where the lease holder lived is in severe disrepair. I’d be shocked if the the apartment was up to code. Who could I get to check if there are any violations with the condition of the apartment? If a violation was noticed by said entity, would they be required to take action against the landlord, or is up to me/the executor?
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby BubbaJoe123 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:52 am

helpme19 wrote:Curious, if the landlord continues to not respond, can the executor get and sign the lease for themselves?


No, they can't. Well, they can, but the landlord doesn't have to accept it.

helpme19 wrote:Unrelated, this is a duplex unit, and the downstairs area where the lease holder lived is in severe disrepair. I’d be shocked if the the apartment was up to code. Who could I get to check if there are any violations with the condition of the apartment? If a violation was noticed by said entity, would they be required to take action against the landlord, or is up to me/the executor?


You can contact the DOB if you believe there are safety hazards, and get an inspector out. The landlord would be responsible for making any necessary repairs. That said, I would certainly hold off on such action until you have a signed lease in your name, since it could either anger the landlord or make them decide that they want/need to redo the apartment and keep it vacant while they do it, requiring you to vacate.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby BubbaJoe123 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 8:57 am

I can understand why the LL wants certification from the leaseholder's estate that the leaseholder is actually dead and that person asking for the lease to end early is authorized to do so.

From the perspective of the role of the executor, it's pretty dubious to be saying she'll only provide that proof if the LL offers you the lease, since, to protect the interests of the estate, they should want to exit the lease as rapidly as possible. It's a liability to the estate, and letting it run the additional month costs the estate a month of rent (less whatever you're paying as a roommate).
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:18 am

OTOH, keeping a unit until the lease expires, in some cases, might be in the interests of the estate or the orderly disposition of the deceased's possessions. If an executor is from out-of-town, in some cases they actually stay at the apartment while packing up the possessions.

As to the executor being an ex-girlfriend, is that just because she says so? Or was she appointed in the will? Has it gone through probate? I would check on that. Courts often look for a relative to be an executor.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby BubbaJoe123 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 9:37 am

TenantNet wrote:OTOH, keeping a unit until the lease expires, in some cases, might be in the interests of the estate or the orderly disposition of the deceased's possessions. If an executor is from out-of-town, in some cases they actually stay at the apartment while packing up the possessions.


Very true.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 11:35 am

The deceased lease holder had no next of kin. The ex girlfriend became his Health Care Proxy when he was hospitalized and has been dealing with his other affairs. I don’t know if she’s officially the executor, but I do believe she is the only person dealing with the lease holder’s affairs.

What I meant earlier is, can the ex-girlfriend apply for the apartment on behalf of the estate? As in, can she renew the lease under the deceased’s name and continue paying rent? I believe she’d be willing to do this for me on the condition that I covered the rent and any backpay.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Fri Sep 13, 2019 12:02 pm

I'm not suggesting she isn't. I am suggesting you check. Too often mistakes are made, even unintentional, and that can screw things up later.

To your question ... No, she can't. She can apply for the unit as an individual after the estate relinquishes control. Don't get too caught up in crazy schemes. Do it proper.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 3:22 pm

Update: the landlord says they will not speak with me or the executor directly. They've asked us to contact their outside attorney.

No idea what's going through their heads. I'm pretty anxious.

I'm thinking I need an attorney representing me on this call with the landlord's attorney. Any suggestions?
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Fri Sep 13, 2019 3:37 pm

Attorney? Why? You have no rights in this situation, so why spend the money on a lawyer? But if you insist, look at our advertisers.

Seriously, you have no rights here. The LL has no obligation to give you the unit.

That's why I suggested you consider Plan B.

Why they want to go through their lawyer, I really don't know.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:07 pm

Understood. I'm not comfortable speaking with an attorney without representation though.

Obviously still hoping they'll accept my application. If they don't though, how long would it take the landlord to evict me if I choose not to leave at the end of the month? What could I do to make this difficult for them? They didn't lift a finger all summer when the lease holder died, or when the ex-roommate barged in. I don't want to be stupid about this, but I do take this personally.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Fri Sep 13, 2019 4:29 pm

How long? Don't know - there are many variables. They would have to commence a proceeding in housing court seeking possession. That is when a lawyer does make sense. In some situations, a settlement of a housing court proceeding could result with the defendant being offered a RS lease. But it's better not going through that process as it takes time and money.

I would concentrate on convincing the LL to give you the unit.
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby helpme19 » Mon Sep 16, 2019 1:36 pm

Update: I just received a letter from the LL's attorneys asking that I quit and surrender the apartment at the end of the month or else they will start legal proceedings.

If the end of the month rolls around and I haven't vacated, will they give me a 30 days notice to vacate, or does that not count since I apparently don't have rights to the unit?

How do I go about negotiating with the landlord at this stage?
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Re: Landlord not responding to application + death threats

Postby TenantNet » Mon Sep 16, 2019 3:12 pm

The deceased tenant's lease expires at the end of September, and as I explained the executor is in control of that tenancy, at lest until then. If the estate holds over, the LL can commence a holdover proceeding in housing court against the estate and any "John Doe's." Complications can arise if probate is needed and not complete. (you really need to ask an estate attorney about all that).

At the end of the month, a number of things could happen. The notice requirement from the LL to either the estate, or to you, could differ. And if that isn't confusing, the new rent laws changed some of the court procedures.

I do know as a roommate, you do not have any tenancy rights. What I do not know is when a LL seeks your ouster if the lease tenant has gone away, what sort of notices are required or the manner of service. The LL might claim a 10-day notice is sufficient. I would think 30 days are correct. The new law provides for 90 days in some instances, but I would not count on that.

You can and should get a legal opinion from a tenant attorney as to what should be done in your case. But you might want to err on the side of caution and presume the notice and the manner of service are all done right. (however I would still argue that 30 days is needed).

You can also hold over and negotiate, buying some time. Of course that depends on their willingness to negotiate. It will take them a week, two or maybe even longer for them to commence a proceeding in court, so the Marshall will not come for you immediately on Oct. 1. There are many variables at play.

But understand this is serious. The LL can seek to evict the prime tenant (estate) and name you as a co-respondent, or as a "John Doe." A court order might order the eviction of all persons then living in the unit (even if you are not named in the papers).
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