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Q: My elderly mother has been told by management she has to move both herself and her belongings out of her rental for 30 days while the owners renovate. She's unwell, has a live-in healthcare aide, and would have nowhere to go. What are her rights here, and what expenses should the owner of the apartment be paying?
Unless there's a specific clause about this kind of arrangement in the lease your mother signed, this isn't a reasonable or legal request for the landlord to make, say our experts.
"If it's a market-rate apartment, there would have to be very specific lease language [about this], otherwise they cannot require you to leave your apartment," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. "One of the things you get when you sign a lease is exclusive possession [of the apartment] for the term of the lease, to the exclusion of the landlord and all others. They can't just pick up and say you've got to leave for a month."
(That said, Himmelstein says he has seen leases with clauses stipulating that the tenancy will be terminated if the landlord decides to demolish or do substantial renovations—all the more reason to read the fine print before you sign. "To me, it's a terrible clause, because you don't really have a lease," he says.)
You're even more protected if her apartment falls under rent control or rent stabilization, in which case she can only be evicted under the grounds set forth under rent stabilization code. "And I would say that having a tenant leave for 30 days is a kind of eviction," says Himmelstein. In either case, unless the building is so dangerous and in need of so much work that the city issues an order to evacuate (as recently happened in a luxury Williamsburg rental), your mother's landlord doesn't have the legal standing to make this kind of request.
Your best bet, then, is to do some negotiating. "Your mother could turn to the landlord and say, 'I'm not leaving unless you compensate me,'" Himmelstein advises. "You may not specifically have the legal right to compensation, but I've had cases where I've been able to negotiate temporary relocation agreements, and the landlord put the tenant up in a nearby hotel or furnished rental, and paid their expenses. Sometimes even extras like attorney's fees, the difference in rent, etc."
Bottom line: "The landlord can't just say they're relocating you so you have to leave," he says. Ergo, your landlord should be covering your mother's relocation costs and making sure she's accommodated comfortably while they upgrade her apartment.
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