What are apartment succession rights, and how do they work?

November 20, 2017

Alexander Ryley

Director, Elderly Project

Dear Friends,

As you know, I receive legal questions from social workers and clinical clients on all manner of subjects, but one topic that arises with great frequency is succession rights in regulated apartments.  This is not surprising, because succession rights are very important, and very often misunderstood.  It’s a complex subject, so I am writing today to provide just a brief summary of some of the most important things to know and understand, as well as some links to other informative resources.

What are succession rights?

The term “succession rights” refers to the rights of people who have been living in certain kinds of regulated apartments — rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments, and limited-equity coop apartments (Mitchell-Lama) — to “succeed” to, or take over, the tenancy of the previous tenant once s/he permanently moves out or dies.  (Note that similar, but hardly identical, rights pertain to NYCHA housing, and to certain public benefits programs like Section 8 and SCRIE, but that’s not my focus here.) 

Who can claim succession rights?

The successor occupant must have a certain kind of close relationship with the tenant who has left or died.  The successor must be a: spouse, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, father, mother, stepfather, stepmother, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law of the tenant.

Otherwise, the person who wants to assert succession rights may try to prove that s/he had a “family-like” relationship with the tenant.  (This is known as a “Braschi”-type relationship, after a court case of that name.) To accomplish this, the person claiming succession rights must prove emotional and financial commitment and interdependence between him- or herself and the tenant.  This can be difficult to do.

What else must one prove besides family relationship?

Generally speaking, in order for someone to have succession rights, s/he must have been living with the tenant of record (the primary leaseholder or shareholder) for at least two years prior to the date when the tenant of record permanently moved out or died, or just one year if the person who is trying to assert succession rights is disabled or age 62+.

Several organizations have created fact sheets and flyers on the complex law of succession rights.  So, rather than go further into detail here, I will direct you to several of these resources and then make two points that I think are especially important. 

Here, therefore, are several places where you can read more about succession rights:

Click here for the Legal Services fact sheet

Click here for the Legal Aid Society fact sheet

Click here for the Mobilization for Justice fact sheet

Click here for the Rent Guidelines Board fact sheet

Click here for the NYS HCR fact sheet

Click here for the Met Council on Housing fact sheet

And now to those two important points:

My first important piece of advice to the hopeful successor: Don’t hide!

Sometimes clients and their families tell me that they think that they need to keep the tenant of record’s permanent departure from the apartment a secret from the landlord.  They believe this not because they want to trick or defraud the landlord in some way, but rather because usually they have heard a story somewhere about how someone was unfairly evicted after the landlord learned that their mother or other relative had moved out.  And therefore, these fearful clients and families not only fail to inform the landlord, but also, they either forge the former tenant’s signature on renewal leases or ask the former tenant to sign the leases even though s/he no longer lives in the apartment.  But do not make this mistake!

It is actually the people who are not transparent with their landlord, who hide the fact that the tenant of record is no longer there, who are putting their succession claims at risk.  This is because even a very solid succession claim can be jeopardized if the claim is not asserted soon enough after the tenant moves out or dies.  Thus, the person who wants to claim succession rights should make that claim to the landlord, in writing, soon after the tenant permanently leaves.  (For help with making the succession claim, they can try contacting one of the legal services offices in NYC that handles housing cases.)

My second piece of advice: Add your spouse to your rent-stabilized lease!

Some tenants get angry when their landlord refuses to add their relative’s name to their rent-stabilized lease.  But the only name that a landlord is required to add to a rent stabilized lease is that of the spouse of the tenant of record.  So rent stabilized tenants who are married should take advantage of this rule, and they should demand, in writing, that the landlord add their husband or wife to their lease.  That way, if either of the two spouses permanently moves out or dies, the remaining spouse will not have to prove succession rights and will instead simply remain as the sole leaseholder.


As you know, I offer advice to seniors not just about succession rights, but also about a variety of other legal subjects at my monthly legal clinics; and even though I don’t offer representation in these cases, I know where to refer seniors to obtain such representation.  So thank you for continuing to refer your clients to my clinics!