Some New Yorkers will do anything to hold on to a rent-stabilized apartment — including making monthly payments in the name of a dead aunt, a lawsuit alleges.
Shareholders of a Brooklyn co-op are suing a city Department of Education staffer for $405,000, claiming the woman sneakily continued to pay her aunt's $287.55 per month rent for three years after she passed away with money orders in the deceased woman's name — then moved in when the alleged scam came to light.
The aunt, Debbie Vaughan — who lived there since 1959 and last saw a rent increase in 1985 — died in April 2007 at the age of 91, records show.
But Brenda Williams, 55, allegedly kept paying the rock-bottom rent and made excuses whenever the landlord asked to access the unit, located on a prime Vanderbilt Ave. block, just steps from Prospect Park.
Williams told the co-op board, "If visited, Ms. Vaughan would panic, think she was being robbed and suffer a heart attack," the suit said.
Now, Williams is refusing to let go of the real estate bargain, even though her name is not on the lease, according to the suit, filed last week in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
She hid the death of her aunt for four years," court papers charged.
"Oh, puh-leeze," Williams said to reporters. "I don't want to hear that .... It's a lie."
Williams said she has been sharing the apartment with her ailing aunt since 1985 and had been paying the bills. She continued making rent payments in the woman's name after her death, she added, "because my name wasn't on the lease."
Zillow.com estimates the market rent of a similar apartment is $2,300.
Owners claim Williams has cost them more than $135,000.
If Williams moves out, the unit will no longer be subject to stabilized rent, said co-op attorney Peter Sanders.
Referring to the dead aunt, he said, "The landlord kept the rent artificially low out of sympathy to the old lady."
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