ALBANY, N.Y. — New York's highest court ruled Thursday that a partner in a long-term homosexual relationship can take over the couple's rent-controlled apartment when the lover who signed the lease dies.
In a 4-2 ruling, the Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision permitting the eviction of a New York City man from a rent-controlled apartment he shared for a decade with his lover, who died.
In doing so, the court expanded the definition of a "family" as it applies to New York's rent-control laws. The word is crucial because state law says only "family members" may continue to live in rent-controlled apartments, saving hundreds of dollars a month in rent in many cases, when the tenant whose name is on the lease dies.
The rent-control laws date from the housing crunch of World War II. They limit the rent increases landlords can charge in apartments with long-term tenants.
The court said the definition of "family members" should include adults who show long-term financial and emotional commitment to each other, even if they don't fit the traditional meaning of a family.
The decision marks the first time any top state court in the nation has recognized a gay couple to be the legal equivalent of a family, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer William Rubenstein said.
"Today's decision is a ground-breaking victory for lesbians and gay men," Rubenstein said. "It marks the most important single step forward in American law toward legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships."
The case involves Miguel Braschi, 33, who wants to live in the desirable Manhattan apartment he shared for 11 years with Leslie Blanchard. The two men were considered a lifetime couple and spouses by their friends.
Blanchard, the owner of a Manhattan beauty salon, died in September, 1986, leaving Braschi almost $5 million. Soon afterward, the landlord, Stahl Associates, attempted to evict Braschi on grounds that he had no right to continue living in the below-price apartment because he was not related to Blanchard by "blood, marriage or adoption."
Braschi's lawyers said rent on the apartment is about $700, several hundred dollars a month less than it would cost on the open market. But they argued he and Blanchard were a family, and thus he had rights under the rent-control law.