Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Two men lived as life partners for over ten years. Upon his partner’s death appellant was threatened by respondent with eviction based on the theory that he was not a family member as protected by rent control law.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Without legislative definition, the court determines the definition of family by examining the intent of the legislation. Based on the intent of the rent control law, an expansive definition of family is appropriate.
Facts. Appellant Miguel Braschi lived with Leslie Blanchard in a rent controlled apartment form the summer of 1975 until Blanchard’s death in September of 1986. Respondent Stahl Associates Co. threatened eviction proceedings against appellant, contending that he was a mere licensee with no right to occupy the apartment since only Blanchard was tenant of record.
Issue. Is a couple living in a marriage-like relationship but not formally married protected under New York Rent Control law?
Held. The term family, as used in the applicable statute, should not be rigidly restricted to those who have formalized their relationship by obtaining a marriage certificate.
The purpose of rent control statutes was to address an acute shortage in dwellings that resulted in abnormal increases in rent. The statutes also provided noneviction protection for occupants who are either the surviving spouse of the deceased tenant or some other member of the deceased tenant’s family.
Respondent argues that the family member term should be construed consistently with the state’s intestacy laws, meaning a relationship of blood, consanguinity or adoption. However, the noneviction protection does not concern succession of real property but rather protects a certain class of occupants from sudden loss of their homes. Respondent’s interpretation would afford protection for distant blood relatives while denying protection to unmarried lifetime partners.
Respondent also contends the family member definition should be guided by a recently enacted noneviction provision of the Rent Stabilization Code, which provides a precise definition of family members based on marital or blood ties. However, the new rent-stabilization system is different than the rent-control system in that the former is a less onerous burden on the property owner.
The term family as used in the statute should not be rigidly restricted to those who have formalized their relationship by obtaining, for example, a marriage certificate or an adoption order. This expansive definition includes two adult lifetime partners.
Appellant should be afforded the opportunity to prove he and Blanchard had a family household. This it determined by the totality of the relationship, including the exclusive commitment, the manner in which the parties have conducted their everyday lives and held themselves out to society, and the reliance placed upon one another for daily family services.
Discussion. The court determined that based on the purpose of the statute a more expansive definition of family should be applicable. The court also provides a useful list of factors to determine family.