Understanding ‘succession rights,’ a complex issue for rent-regulated tenants

  • A new law simplifies how a tenant’s eligibility to inherit an apartment is determined
  • Legal challenges to succession rights are rare since the 2019 rent reforms
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
January 9, 2024 - 11:00AM
Close-up view of New York City style apartment buildings with emergency stairs along Mott Street in Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, United States.

To inherit an apartment from a family member, you have to show that you used the unit as your primary residence.


Let’s say you have an elderly family member living in that most coveted of New York City apartments, the rent-regulated unit. When they vacate the apartment—whether they pass away, move into assisted living, or migrate to milder climates—you may want to swoop in and take over the lease.

But like most everything else in New York, inheriting a rent-stabilized or controlled apartment isn’t straightforward. Succession rights—which dictate your ability to be named the new leaseholder in a relative’s regulated unit—are dependent upon a complex set of rules. 

Those rules recently got a little simpler thanks to a law passed at the end of 2023 that helps clarify how to calculate one key factor determining eligibility: the amount of time a family member lives with the original tenant in the apartment.

[Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was published in April 2016. We are representing it here with new information for January 2024.] 

How to qualify for succession rights

If you hope to inherit a family member’s rent-regulated apartment—and you are not a current co-tenant already on the lease—you need to be living in the unit well before they move on. 

To succeed your relative and take over their lease, you have to prove that you lived with them for at least two years before they moved out, according to the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). Even if your parent was the renter and you grew up in the apartment, you can’t inherit it if the unit wasn’t your primary residence before they left. 

How your relationship impacts succession 

The nature of your relationship matters too. The DHCR defines family members as spouses, children and stepchildren, parents and stepparents, siblings and stepsiblings, grandparents and grandchildren, and parents-in-law and children-in-law. 

But if you have a close relationship with another family member or person—say your aunt for example—you can still qualify as a successor. You just have to show that there was an “emotional and financial commitment and interdependence” between yourself and the original tenant.

If you are 62 years old or older, or if you have a disability, you’re only required to cohabitate with the current tenant for one year. The DHCR defines a disabled person as someone with “an impairment which results from anatomical, physiological or psychological conditions,” excluding addiction, which “substantially limits” a person’s “major life activities” and can be demonstrated by “clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.”

Changes to how the cohabitation period is counted

Your succession rights are also at risk if you’ve left the apartment for extended periods of time—to be considered a permanent tenant, you must reside there for at least six months out of the year. 

Exceptions are made, though, for military personnel and full-time students, as well as for New Yorkers who have jobs that require temporary relocation, or who have experienced lengthy hospitalizations.

Thanks to a new law passed in December 2023, calculating that one or two-year period just got easier. Previously, a family member had to live in the apartment for two years before the original tenant notified their landlord that they had moved out. Tenants who failed to give their landlord a heads up could be evicted through a court case. 

The new law, plus a rule change from the DHCR, clarifies that the two-year period is determined by when the primary tenant leaves or passes away, not when they send notice.

Proving your succession rights 

It’s crucial to make your intentions clear in advance if you plan to take over a relative’s lease, says attorney Justin Brasch. 

He suggested sending a letter via certified mail to the landlord—ideally before your relative moves out—explaining that you qualify for succession rights and will become the leaseholder once the current tenant vacates. You can use the DHCR’s form to give your landlord notice of your right to inherit the apartment, though your landlord may ask for additional information.

You should also create a paper trail documenting your residence, such as by receiving mail, credit card statements, and bills at that address, and having it listed on your driver’s license, voter registration, tax returns, or other forms of ID.

Likelihood of a legal challenge

Since the landmark changes to New York’s rent laws in 2019, it’s less likely that your landlord will challenge your inheriting of the apartment in court. 

In the past, an owner could deregulate the apartment upon vacancy. But the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act eliminated that loophole and the economic benefit of challenging a renter’s succession rights.

But if you’ve followed the regulations to the letter and still find your succession rights contested, you may want to consult a tenant lawyer.

A previous version of this article contained writing and reporting by Alanna Schubach.

Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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