NYC Landlord Refuses to Add Same-Sex Spouse to Lease
Despite changes to state and city laws allowing gay marriage, some landlords in New York City are still illegally refusing to add same-sex spouses to leases.
Too Legit to Quit
The latest case involves a lawsuit filed on Oct. 2 by Lambda Legal on behalf of Dava Weinstein, 68, a licensed clinical social worker, and her partner of 37 years, Dorothy Calvani, 63, a geriatric nurse practitioner. They were married in 2011 in Iowa.
When Weinstein asked her landlords at Weinreb Management to add Calvani to her rent-stabilized lease for the New York City apartment where the couple has lived since 1997, they refused, saying it was “illegal.”
The couple, having provided a copy of their marriage certificate, corrected the landlords, but they still refused to add Calvani. Lambda Legal, which sued on behalf of a Harlem couple in a similar case last year, promptly filed suit, alleging violations of the New York Rent Stabilization Code and provisions of the New York State and City human rights laws.
“The landlord’s outright refusal to recognize Dava’s marriage to Dorothy is outrageous and violates New York State and City laws,” said Susan Sommer, Lambda’s director of constitutional litigation in a statement. “How many New York same-sex couples will have to take their landlords to court before landlords stop illegally refusing to add same-sex spouses to rent-stabilized or rent-controlled leases?”
Rent-controlled and rent-stabilized leases are variations of rent regulation in New York City that are coveted by renters but increasingly difficult to find.
“Rent control” is the older of the two systems, dating back to the housing shortage that immediately followed World War II, according to a New York State fact sheet. It applies to buildings constructed before 1947. “Rent stabilization” covers buildings built between 1947 and 1973, and apartments removed from rent control.
Landlords can increase rent under stabilized leases, but only if they make certain improvements or get the state’s approval; these leases are basically automatically always renewed. Rent-controlled leases are not automatically renewed, but they do come with protections that limit increases.
Understandably, in a place like New York City where rents are famously high and tenants come and go, taking advantage of the stability that marriage affords a renting couple can be crucial.
“This type of discrimination was first seen in the 80s with AIDS cases and rent-controlled leases, which are rarer to find these days and their possessors are usually much older,” explains Anthony M. Brown, who heads the nontraditional family and estates law practice at Albert W. Chianese & Associates in New York.
Litigation first established that registered domestic partners could inherit rent-controlled leases, and that principle was extended to rent-stabilized leases in the early 90s, Brown says.
Landlords resist adding partners because “succession rights to rent controlled or rent stabilized apartments have value,” adds Daniel Clement, a family lawyer with Clement Law in New York. “The landlords get to raise rent went the apartment is vacated,” he explains, so “succession rights are often challenged.”
Regular leases, or “market leases” don’t present as much of an issue when adding a spouse, Brown explains, “because adding a spouse to [one] does not possess the same injury for the landlord (not being able to raise the rent).”
Brown says that while he’s heard from clients that landlords do initially resist adding same-sex partners, “[i]n New York, there are fewer and fewer cases of discrimination.”
“What we are seeing are cases where service providers are refusing to offer services to same sex couples, many in wedding service situation,” he adds. For example, in New Mexico, a wedding photographer who refused to shoot a same-sex wedding was sued all the way to the state Supreme Court, which in August unanimously found against her.
“The right wing marriage opposition see it as a First Amendment test case,” Brown laments. Lawyers representing the photographer, who claims being forced to photograph the ceremony would violate her religious beliefs, have said they may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Brown says gay married couples can fight rent discrimination in New York. “If a couple suspects they are being discriminated against, they can first file a complaint at the rent guidelines board and the New York State Division of Housing and Community renewal against their landlord,” he notes. “They can also contact Lambda Legal, who has nationwide presence to tackle these issues.”