How can I add my partner to a fixed-rent lease?

Q: My partner and I are elderly. We decided to live together in my rent-stabilized New York apartment, where I currently live alone. I want to know: If something happens to me as an official tenant, will he be able to stay in the apartment? We are considering registering as national partners. Would it help to get him added to the lease as an additional listed tenant?

A: A domestic partnership would probably be helpful. But you would have a much stronger case if you and your partner were married.

In rent-stabilized apartments, a tenant can require a partner to be added to a lease “if the partner became the tenant’s spouse and lived in the apartment as their primary residence with the tenant,” said Peter A. Schwartz, a real estate lawyer specializing in rent stabilization and rent control, and a partner at the Manhattan law firm Graubard Miller.

For any other family member, the tenant can request, but approval is up to the landlord.

A domestic partner who is not on the lease may have the right of succession on the death of the tenant or on the final release of the apartment, but there are a number of checkboxes. First, the partner must have lived in the apartment with the tenant as their permanent residence for a minimum period, usually two years, Schwartz said. For seniors (defined in New York’s rent stabilization laws as someone who is at least 62 years old), the period is one year, he said.

Generally, a tenant’s family members have more direct avenues to lease the estate under New York law. “Family members are defined in law as a spouse, child, parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, stepchildren, stepparents,” Mr. Schwartz.

But there is another category: “Any other person residing with the tenant who can demonstrate an emotional and financial commitment and interdependence with the tenant,” he said.

This is where a domestic partnership could come in handy. In a contested estate application, New York’s Homes and Community Renewal agency, or a housing court, will review a number of details to ascertain the status of the relationship, usually including the longevity of the relationship, any account shared banking, if the partners have named each other in their will, if they have given each other power of attorney and if they have made a declaration of domestic partnership. (You can read more about eligibility and criteria here.)

However, none of these factors is singularly decisive. A domestic partnership would be “a helping factor, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own,” Schwartz said.

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