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Can I be on two leases in the same building?

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Question:

My husband and I have been separated for years, and though my name is still on the lease of the apartment he shares with our son, I live in a different unit in the same building with my mother. Can I add my name to her lease, in addition to the one I share with my husband, in case something happens to her?

Answer:

The answer to your question depends on whether or not your apartments are rent-stabilized, say our experts. 

If you're in a market-rate apartment, there's no reason you couldn't be on two leases, so long as the landlord approves. "Whether or not you can be added to your mother's lease is up to the landlord," says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. However, Himmelstein cautions to keep in mind that if you stay on the lease for an apartment you don't live in, you're still liable for the cost of damages to the apartment or unpaid rent, which puts you at some financial risk.

"If the apartments are rent-stabilized, the situation is much messier," says Himmelstein, "And it's very unlikely that the landlord would agree to simply add you to your mother's lease, since they'd be stuck with you as a stabilized tenant for many more years." (Rent-stabilized landlords are locked into minimal rent increases for existing tenants, but have the opportunity to renovate and raise the rent when someone dies or moves out.)

You'll also be facing an issue of "primary residence," since you no longer live in the apartment your son and husband share. "Any rent-stabilized apartment you're on the lease for is required to be your primary residence," Himmelstein notes, and if the landlord finds out you don't live there full time, they have the right to evict you. Technically, it is possible to have multiple stabilized apartments in the same building—so long as you're splitting your time between both as primary residences—and this is an arrangement somewhat common to married couples who live in the same building. ("They sleep in one, have dinner in the other, and go back and forth between the two," says Himmelstein.)

But this isn't the situation in your case, and if you apply for succesion rights in your mother's apartment, you could wind up getting booted off the lease in your other apartment, or denied succession rights for your mother's, based on the fact that you've been falsely claiming the other apartment as a primary residence by staying on the lease. 

Your best bet here, says Himmelstein, is to take your name off the lease of your old apartment, and continue living with your mother. Once you've lived with her for two years (or one year if you're disabled or over the age of 62), you'll have what's known as "succession rights" to take over the lease after she's gone, and the apartment will be yours.


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