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A Brooklyn judge has dismissed a holdover proceeding initiated by a landlord against his deceased tenant’s same-sex “life partner,” holding that the partner constituted a “nontraditional family member” under New York’s Rent Stabilization Code. “The critical determination that must be reached, to find that a nontraditional family existed, is a finding that an emotional and financial commitment, and an interdependence existed,” Housing Court Judge Marcia J. Sikowitz wrote in Lamarche v. Miles, 078102/04. “[I]t is the amalgam of enumerated factors that give rise to the essence of a family that feels like, looks like, and works like a family unit, and based on every enunciated factor the court is to consider, respondent and Richard Cason were a family.” Cason leased the contested apartment, 450 Clinton Avenue, from the late 1980s until his death in April 2004. Shortly thereafter, the building’s owner, Louis Lamarche, initiated the present proceeding against Cason’s partner, Bobby Miles. Miles contended that under the state’s Rent Stabilization Code he was a “nontraditional family member” entitled to succeed Cason on his lease. The trial stretched out over several months, according to the decision, with lawyers calling 16 witnesses and submitting 40 exhibits. Miles sought to establish the depth and intimacy of his relationship with Cason, a paraplegic who suffered from debilitating diabetes. The 13-page decision goes into extensive detail about the couple’s day-to-day routine and holiday traditions, as well as the care Miles gave his partner as his health deteriorated. “[Miles] would bathe Cason three to four times a week when he was ill, and before going to the hospital he would bathe him,” Sikowitz wrote. According to various witnesses, Miles fed Cason, ironed his clothes and dressed him each day. When Cason was hospitalized for six months, he visited him daily. Miles submitted into evidence one Valentine’s day card and two birthday cards he had given Cason. The landlord sought to refute the argument that Miles and Cason constituted a family via, among other things, the testimony of investigative attorney Charles E. Gordon, a specialist in missing persons and rent-stabilization fraud. Gordon “checked several sources … including voter registration, telephone listings, driver’s license, motor vehicle records, and utilities,” the judge wrote. He learned that Miles is “registered to vote at his family’s apartment … he does not have a driver’s license, he does not own a car, and he does not own any property.” Sikowitz relied on 9 NYCRR 2520.6(o)(2), commonly referred to as the “Rent Stabilization Code,” the New York State Legislature’s codification of the Court of Appeals holding in the 1989 case Braschi v. Stahl Assoc. Co., 74 NY2d 201. Under the code, the factors for determining whether a nontraditional family relationship exists include the “longevity of the relationship, sharing of household and necessary expenses, intermingling of finances, engaging in family-type activities and holding out publicly as family members, formalizing legal obligations, and any other pattern of behavior that evidences the intention to create a long-term, emotionally committed relationship.” Based on “every enumerated factor” the court is required to consider, Miles and Cason were a family, the court held. “The evaluation of the testimony and documentary evidence is not merely a ministerial act of going down a check list of factors. A family is a family, whether the members are legally married husband and wife, or ‘nontraditional’ gay life partners,” Sikowitz wrote. “Cason’s life centered in [the apartment] due to his lack of mobility and poor health. Respondent’s life was centered around Cason.” ISSUE DECIDED CASE BY CASE Although other judges have ruled in favor of same-sex partners in similar proceedings, the case was anything but open-and-shut according to Miles’ attorney, Anette Bonelli. “The law is on a case-by-case basis,” said Bonelli, a supervising attorney for the housing unit of DC-37 Municipal Employees Legal Services. “There have been many cases on succession, [but there is no] black-and-white rule. I felt I had to put in a lot of evidence to substantiate my client’s case.” Bonelli was assisted by Jesse Gribben, Jacqueline Pointdujour and Abdul Washington. Michele Slochowsky-Hering of Slochowsky & Slochowsky represented Lamarche. “We intend to appeal the decision,” she said. “There’s a determination and a weighing of eight specific factors. None of them as far as we are concerned were met. There was other evidence and testimony that in our opinion were ignored.”

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