“Generally speaking and without reviewing the proprietary lease for this apartment, says partner Lawrence C. McCourt, a partner at the Manhattan-based law firm of Heiberger & Associates, P.C., “should the Lessee of HDFC die, proprietary leases for HDFCs provide that consent of the Board shall not be unreasonably withheld to a request for a transfer the stock and assignment of the proprietary lease to a financially responsible member of the family. If your uncle did not have anything in writing showing her intent to pass the apartment to him and she died intestate (i.e. without a will) applications could have been made to Surrogates Court to pass the shares of the apartment to him through intestacy. However, if there were multiple claims on the shares by other family members this proceeding would be complicated. But regardless, it does not seem right for the board to say that yourgrandmother's shares were extinguished simply because she died without anotarized letter transferring the apartment to a family member.
“If your grandmother had arrears for maintenance on the unit, the sharescould have been extinguished by a foreclosure(via a judicial or non-judicial foreclosure)then the Board rented itto your uncle as simply a tenant. But ifthe cooperative board did nothing to extinguish your grandmother's shares,then a claim could be madethat the shares are still in effect and your family members could make claim to them as governed by the proprietary lease.
“As to the question of possession of the unit: it appears that the board has resorted to the common law remedy of "self-help;" i.e. the landlord taking possession of property without using judicial process. From your question, one cannot tell if you were in possession or not at the time the board took possession of the unit.If theshares were extinguished and you were not in possession of the unit, and there was no lease in effect at the time of death, they could lock doors, as the courts have upheld the use of "self-help" against those who have no claim to the property.
“However, the courts do in fact frown on the use of "self-help" and regardless of whether the shares were terminated, if you have a claim to possession as a licensee at the time of death of the tenant, or you are a representative of the estate of your uncle, an "illegal lockout" proceeding may lie.