Have you heard the one about the woman who spends $1,038 a month total in rent for two Manhattan apartments? No? Well, grab some Jiffy Pop, because the story of 48-year-old Margaret Hearn—who currently has a three-bedroom on East 12th Street and a 300-square-foot studio apartment in Gramercy—is a doozy. No $331.76/month four-bedroom in the Village, but still! Hearn doesn't want to be in her situation, however: she can't give up the studio, where she says she doesn't live, because she might lose the three-bedroom. And now she might lose both.
See Hearn, who says she has been suffering from crippling depression and anxiety since 2005, has had a $747 studio in Gramercy for 20 years. But four years ago she says she became very close with sisters Josephine and Margaret Ruta, who had been living in the same apartment at 345 East 12th Street since the 1920s. So close, in fact she says she essentially moved in. "I was by Jo Jo’s bedside when she died, and by Margaret’s," Hearn told The Local. And then things got tricky.
After attending Josephine's funeral in March she returned to the Ruta's apartment to find the door padlocked. On April 30th she was ordered to vacate within 21 days. Now she is trying to fight the order, claiming that despite not being related to the Rutas she has the right to succeed their tenancy (and their rent). And while she does that she's staying in the apartment, along with all of the Rutas' belongings.
In order for a tenant to remain in a rent-controlled apartment that was in someone else’s name, the tenant must prove that he or she is either a family member of the previous tenant, or was a “non-traditional family” member and had an “emotional and financial commitment” to the previous tenant. The successor must also prove that he or she has been co-habitating with the previous tenant for at least two years - or one year in the case of individuals with disabilities. Since 2005, Ms. Hearn has suffered from a crippling depression and anxiety disorder that, despite treatment, has prevented her from working, she said.
Hearn and her lawyers say that she fits that bill. She's even got friends to back her up. As one tells The Local, "Margaret did for those women what I hope my children will do for me when I reach that point." The Rutas never married nor had any children.
While Hearn is fighting to prove she deserves to keep that three-bedroom, she's also dealing with the problem of her Gramercy studio—which she readily admits is not her primary residence. Because she admits that, her landlord has the right to refuse to renew her very good lease. But she can't give it up in case she loses the three-bedroom. So for now Hearn has two highly desirable, very cheap, Manhattan apartments. And in a few weeks, she may have none: "The lease for the Gramercy studio expires at the end of October, a couple of weeks after a scheduled deposition in the East Village case."