Manhattan man allegedly posed as dead rent stabilized tenant for two decades

R.A. Cohen and Associates is suing Shao Tang Hu

21 Catherine Street (Credit: Google Maps and iStock)
21 Catherine Street (Credit: Google Maps and iStock)

For more than 20 years, a Manhattan man allegedly pretended to be a dead woman in order to hold onto her rent-stabilized apartment.

A lawsuit filed on Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan claims Shao Tang Hu repeatedly renewed the lease of an apartment at 21 Catherine Street from 1995 to 2017. Hu signed the lease as Boo Hai Lee, who had inked a two-year lease for apartment 3C in the building in 1993, according to the complaint.

Lee died on January 7, 1994, but the building’s landlord at the time, Quang Big Realty Corp., wasn’t aware of her death, the lawsuit states. Hu allegedly signed Lee’s name on the lease renewal forms and converted the apartment into an office for his medical practice (though, the lawsuit notes that Hu is not a licensed doctor).

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Hu, believed to be Lee’s godson, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

R.A. Cohen and Associates purchased the 15-unit building, along with another next door at 23 Catherine Street, for $8.8 million in 2015, property records show. The new owner discovered that Hu was using the apartment as a medical office after Hu renewed a two-year lease — again purporting to be Lee — in 2017.

The lawsuit, filed by R.A. Cohen, requests that the judge order Hu to remove all his medical equipment and vacate the apartment. An attorney for the landlord declined to comment.

Under state rent stabilization law, landlords must offer the option to renew a lease to rent stabilized tenants. Once vacant, a landlord has a few different ways to deregulate an apartment.