New York, as a political entity, has long held more traditional views on what constitutes a “family” than, perhaps, the majority of individual New Yorkers have. New York only recently adopted “no-fault divorce,” preferring for decades that couples who wished to divorce jump through hoops to fit their marital discord into one of several restrictive boxes, such as adultery or abuse.
The tide, however, is starting to turn, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Housing Court. In a still somewhat surprising move, in the case Lopez v. Reyes, Bronx Housing Court Judge Brenda Spears dismissed a building superintendent’s petition to evict his longterm live-in girlfriend from his apartment on the basis that they were not married, and did not have any children together. According to Judge Spears’s decision, which cited the earlier decision Braschi v. Stahl, “a narrow definition of of ‘family,’ relating only to the nuclear family with children is inapplicable to modern society.” New York law has long recognized that marriage is, first and foremost, an “economic partnership,” and Judge Spears recognized that the couple had lived together, in a marital-like economic partnership, for more than 25 years. Accordingly, Judge Spears ruled that only the Family Court or Supreme Court had jurisdiction to determine issues surrounding the dissolution of their marital-type relationship.
It will be interesting to see where this leads. The narrow definition of family has always played a large role in succession rights for the city’s coveted rent-control apartments. Could this judicial trend lead to a relaxing of the restrictions for rent-control apartments? My prediction: not without a huge fight.