2950 Grand Concourse, Bronx
2950 Grand Concourse, Bronx (Courtesy of propertyshark.com)

A supported housing provider cannot refuse to accept rent for the 8-year-old grandson of one of its clients, a Bronx judge has ruled, finding that the rent stabilization law gives the grandson the right to live with his grandmother.

Judge Leslie Stroth (See Profile) ruled in PCMH 2950 Grand Concourse v. Jones, 62655/13, that the tenant, Natalie Jones, could have her family member live with her, regardless of the fact that the housing provider, PCMH 2950 Grand Concourse, did not explicitly approve it.

Dinah Luck of MFY Legal services, who represented Jones, said the decision appeared to be the first to address the issue head-on.

“I haven’t personally seen a case like this,” she said. “It’s my understanding that there are a lot of people in New York City who are taking care of minor children who aren’t their children and may be entitled to a shelter allowance.”

PCMH, a non-profit, specializes in developing housing for people with mental illness, and owns ten apartment buildings throughout the city. In addition to housing, it provides services for its tenants to help them live and work in their communities.

Jones receives Section 8 assistance for her supported housing apartment in one of PCMH’s Bronx buildings, which is rent-stabilized. Other than receiving a rent subsidy, Jones has not made use of any special services from PCMH, Luck said.

Jones’s grandson, Mikyel Cardichon, began living with her pursuant to a Family Court order, according to Stroth’s decision. Jones applied for and received a shelter allowance from the Department of Social Services for her grandson. She also pays about $200 per month in rent herself.

However, the landlord began refusing to cash checks from Jones and DSS after the grandson moved in, and initiated a non-payment proceeding in October. PCMH alleged that the grandson was not authorized to live there, and that it suspected that the public assistance was being received fraudulently, though without alleging any details about that fraud.

Stroth, in her decision granting Jones summary judgment, found that PCMH could not reject the rent payments that had been tendered.

“Here, the landlord has been offered the full amount of respondent’s share of the rent by the Department of Social Services, and petitioner has refused to accept it,” she wrote. “Petitioner may not maintain this non-payment proceeding where there has been an offer to tender rent owed, and petitioner has refused to accept it.”

Stroth further ruled that by refusing to accept the money and trying to evict Jones and her grandson, PCMH was violating state housing law.

“[N]ot only is respondent’s grandson Mikyel Cardichon residing with respondent pursuant to family court order, but Real Property Law § 235-f prohibits petitioner from restricting respondent’s occupancy and that of her family, including dependent children, in the way that petitioner is effectively doing by refusing the shelter allowance paid by DSS for respondent’s grandson,” she wrote. “Petitioner has no standing to challenge the family court order and no basis to prevent this eight year old child from residing with his grandmother.”

Furthermore, Stroth found, the landlord has no standing to challenge DSS’s decision to issue support payments for the grandson.

The judge rejected the landlord’s suggestion that Jones was involved in fraud.

“As for petitioner’s suggestion that respondent is committing fraud in obtaining shelter payments for her grandson, petitioner has produced no evidence to support such an allegation, and it appears to be without any basis in fact,” she wrote.

Though she dismissed the case, Stroth noted that the decision should not be construed to give the grandson tenancy rights.

Luck said the decision was important because “it’s really common, unfortunately, for supported housing providers to be very resistant to having family members live with tenants.”

She said these landlords sometimes worry that allowing additional occupants “complicates matters” and that “there could be additional problems if a dispute arises between family members.”

“I think it’s significant because the landlord’s argument opened up avenues that could be dangerous to tenants,” she added.

Luck also said it was “disappointing when supported housing providers take an aggressive litigation stance against a person with a disability instead of providing support,” and said she hoped Stroth’s decision would discourage that.

The landlord is represented by Gregory Bougopoulos, an associate at Novick, Edelstein, Lubell, Reisman, Wasserman & Leventhal, who could not be reached for comment.