Dear Sam: Can I get any kind of lenience from a landlord if my spouse has recently passed away? My husband died recently, and while I was late on rent for September and haven't yet paid for October, I just received notice for court proceedings for non-payment in August, even though I paid rent that month. How can I save my apartment?
Though your loss isn't legal grounds for a break on rent, don't let your landlord bully you into thinking you have to leave immediately, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
"A temporary financial hardship is not a legal defense or a reason to not pay rent," says Himmelstein. That said, the eviction and housing court process are inevitably somewhat slow with lots of built in delays, meaning you'll have some time to get your finances in order and figure out a new payment plan if need be. "The first thing to remember is that if you’re sued for non-payment of rent, you can’t be evicted unless you ultimately don’t pay what you owe," says Himmelstein. "If you come up with the money, then you won't be evicted."
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.