Veterans Initiative Client Story: Mr. Iannuzzi Maintains His Apartment

February 6, 2020

This story is a recent case example from the Veterans Initiative of the VOLS Elderly Project. The VOLS client's name has been changed for privacy purposes.


When Richard Iannuzzi, a 65-year-old LGBTQ Vietnam-era veteran, came to us this past summer, he was on the verge of eviction. Mr. Iannuzzi had lived in his rent stabilized apartment on West 17th Street for the past decade with his partner, who had been in that apartment for over 30 years. Despite being in a long term committed relationship, he and his partner never married.


His partner passed away in December 2018, and Mr. Ianuzzi was the primary caregiver during his illness. Soon after, the landlord stopped accepting rent payments and told Mr. Iannuzzi that he would have to leave his home, because his name was not on the lease.


Naturally, after his partner passed, Mr. Iannuzzi wanted to remain in the apartment he shared with his partner. If they had been legally married, Mr. Iannuzzi would have automatically been able to remain in the apartment. The landlord commenced an eviction proceeding, which had been adjourned a number of times. He attempted to get help from other legal services providers, but he had been turned down repeatedly because he did not live in the right zip code or because the other providers did not see a path forward in the case.


While married couples are automatically granted succession rights to rent-stabilized apartments, people in less traditional family relationships may also gain succession rights if they are able to show a financial and emotional inter-dependence. New York Courts established this test under the Braschi decision, which was decided prior to marriage equality. VOLS assessed that his relationship met the Braschi standard and that he should be allowed to take over apartment lease.


The VOLS Elderly Project/Veteran’s Initiative – along with pro bono co-counsel from the law firm of Alston & Bird – appeared in the proceeding and asserted Mr. Iannuzzi’s right to succession. Soon after our appearance, the landlord conceded and granted him a lease in his name without any increase in the rent. 


Obtaining the lease in Mr. Iannuzzi's name was only the first step to ensure that he would not be added to the ranks of homeless veterans. During the time the case was pending, over $7,000 in rent arrears had accrued, and he was having trouble making ends meet. Mr. Iannuzzi’s Social Security Retirement benefits were only $930 per month, and the rent for the apartment was $1,047. When Mr. Iannuzzi's partner was alive, they were a two income household and were able to cover the rent. But the loss of his partner also meant the loss of that second income.


Our VOLS Project Director recognized that, as a wartime veteran over the age of 65, Mr. Iannuzzi should be eligible for a Pension from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. We assisted him to obtain his discharge papers from the Department of Defense applying for his VA Pension. Mr. Iannuzzi qualified for the benefit and increased his monthly income to $1,200 per month. Along with his Food Stamp benefits, he was now able to afford to stay in his apartment. We then helped him apply for a “one shot deal” grant from the New York City Human Resources Administration, who in October 2019 awarded him $7,246.31 to pay off his arrears.


The final piece of assistance we offered Mr. Iannuzzi was to assist him in applying for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption benefit (SCRIE). Because his income was less than $50,000 per year, and that his rent exceeded 30% of his income, and that he lived in a rent regulated apartment and was over 62 year old, Mr. Iannuzzi qualified to have his rent frozen under this program. Now his rent cannot go up, so long as he continues to qualify.