Tenant Allowed to Keep $104-a-Month Manhattan Apartment Despite Homeless Lifestyle

An appeals court has denied a landlord's bid to evict a mentally disturbed man from his bargain $104-a-month Manhattan apartment, saying his preference for sleeping on a park bench does not mean his apartment is not his primary residence.

The state Supreme Court's Appellate Term ruled 2-1 in favor of Michael Tsitsires, finding that despite his "homeless" lifestyle he had never abandoned his one-room apartment and had always kept his clothes and personal effects there.

Under New York state's complicated rent regulation laws, landlords can evict tenants from much coveted rent-stabilized apartments if they can show that it is not being used as a primary residence. The rent laws limit how much landlords can raise rents for regulated apartments, which result in apartments renting for prices well below the sky-high market-rate rents for Manhattan properties.

The landlord, TOA Construction Co. Inc., sued in 2000 to evict Tsitsires from his apartment, claiming that he spent most of his time outdoors and often slept in Central Park or a stoop somewhere.

Ruling for TOA in July 2005, Civil Court Judge Gerald Lebovits wrote that he was not condemning Tsitsires to a life of homelessness since, "Whether by choice or circumstance, (he) is already homeless."

The appellate court disagreed in a decision issued Wednesday, saying they refused to find a tenant "maintains his primary residence on a park bench.

The panel noted that Tsitsires, who receives government disability payments, had lived for 35 years amd keeps his clothing and personal belongings in his apartment in the Windemere, a once historic and fashionable but now dilapidated building on West 57th St.

The appellate panel added that the trial record indicates that the tenant's "aberrant, 'homeless' lifestyle is the product of deep, long-standing emotional difficulties."

Tsitsires' lawyer, Trisha Lawson, said she believed the ruling was unprecedented. She said this was the first case she had seen of a landlord that had tried to evict a tenant on the ground that his primary residence was the street.

The appellate court decision noted that Tsitsires, who Lawson said is in his 50s, almost never leaves a "safe zone" that occupies a 10-block radius around the Windemere.

The lawyer for TOA, Steven Sieratzki, did not return a call for comment Thursday.