By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Over 250 people showed up last Wednesday to a legal clinic held by the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, to have their questions answered about the recent round of golub notices and to learn about apartment succession rights. Aki Younge, a paralegal working on the community development project in the housing practice area for the Urban Justice Center, offered general information about the two complicated legal topics while four lawyers from the UJC were available for individual appointments to meet with tenants about their specific concerns.
The meeting, held in the auditorium at Simon Baruch Middle School, started at 6 p.m. and TA President Susan Steinberg said that they ended up having to schedule the appointments right at the beginning of the meeting because about 30 people had requested a slot with a lawyer.
“There are only four lawyers so we needed to have them meeting with people to whole time to get all of the appointments in,” she said. “Thirty was way more than we expected. We thought it would only be a handful of people but clearly we have hit a nerve.”
Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who was also in attendance, recalled that this kind of meeting was a much more common occurrence during the days of Tishman Speyer.
“We had a lot of these meetings in those days when Tishman Speyer was using aggressive acts, trying to find ways to get people out,” he said. “We’ve had years of calm but (CWCapital) has said that they felt they had let the question lapse, but they have also said that this is a one-time push on the issue, when you’ll see this level of notices.”
Despite the frequency of building owners using specific legal issues against tenants, Younge explained that the rules are not intended to be malicious.
“There is a housing shortage in New York so the idea behind (primary residence) is that landlords want to make sure that the people living in those apartments are actually living there and are adding to the community,” she said. “The idea behind succession is that you can pass your apartment on. It’s the ability for rent stabilized tenants to pass their apartment on to their children and to maintain their family’s ties to that community.”
Younge explained that golub notices (or notices of nonrenewal) are sent out no less than three and no more than five months before the end of a lease term and it means that tenants can’t renew their lease because they’re not considered a primary resident in the apartment. Younge emphasized that the notice itself is not legally binding and does not mean that the landlord has brought a court case against the tenant, since a court case can’t start until the lease actually ends.
“The hope is that you’ll be able to mitigate the golub notice before you have to worry about going to court,” she said.
The notice itself includes a list of documents and while Younge noted that tenants aren’t obligated to send anything, the best course of action is to collect documents that will help prove that the tenant is actually a primary resident in the apartment, such as tax return information, a driver’s license and receipts from the area, in order to avoid the later steps of having to go to housing court.
Younge explained that there are a handful of ways to avoid getting a golub notice, the simplest of which is to live at the apartment for the entire year.
“The bad news is that if you don’t, then you’re putting yourself at risk,” she said. “You’re allowed to have property in other places but you can mitigate the issue by staying at the apartment as much as possible and keeping your voter registration and driver’s license there.”
She noted that there are also exceptions for the primary residence rule of having to live in the apartment 183 days of the lease term. Anyone who travels extensively for work qualifies for an exception, unless, “for example, your company wants to send you to Copenhagen for six full months or for the year,” Younge said. She added that other exceptions include being out of the state for education, for military service, are hospitalized or are caring for someone else for an extended period.
One resident said that she felt like she’s being watched because of the attention management pays to keycard swipes in reference to primary residence challenges.
“There is a technological aspect to the keycard component,” Garodnick pointed out. “They do have the ability to pull that data. If there’s reason to have suspicions about your status and they decide they want to focus on you, they can correspond the cameras to your swipes.”
He added that this data could work both for or against tenants and noted that tenants should be careful about challenging management to check their keycard data unless they are sure it matches up with claims to primary residency.
Succession rights allow family members, under certain circumstances, to take over the lease in a rent stabilized apartment without having to pay a vacancy increase. Steinberg later said that the majority of appointments people wanted to set up to speak with the lawyers involved situations relating to succession rights and Younge noted that there were more questions following the presentation on succession than on primary residence.
Questions asked were less general and more related to specific situations, including issues such as growing up in the apartment but not living there currently, being born in the apartment but living somewhere else and other issues. Regardless of the specific situation, however, Younge said that growing up in the apartment is not necessarily relevant to succession.
“It doesn’t matter if you were born there,” she said. “You just have to prove you have a right to the apartment by showing that you’re a family member and showing that you were using apartment as primary residence for the last two years.”
While being away for education qualifies as an exception in a primary residence challenge, Younge noted that being away at college is more tricky in terms of succession rights because it’s such an extended period.
“It’s not as likely that the college student is the primary resident anyway and in that case it would usually be the parents,” she said. She recommended going back to the apartment during breaks and other periods to begin asserting succession rights. “Show that it was your home base,” she said. “Being able to return to find a job for summer can help strengthen your case to assert succession.”
Younge later said that she’s never done a presentation like this since working with the Urban Justice Center but said she still expected a smaller gathering.
“(The crowd) just proves how important and how complicated these issues are and how often they’re used as a tactic to make tenants’ lives just a little miserable,” she said.