Daily News: Queens Woman in Danger of Losing Her Home Because She Never Married Her Soulmate

Coverage of a very tragic story in the Daily News on our efforts to save an elderly woman from eviction in Jamaica Estates, Queens.

NY Daily News
Queens woman in danger of losing her home because she never married her soulmate
By Andrew Keshner
October 26, 2017

A Queens woman lost her man, and now she’s in danger of losing her home because her soulmate’s kids want her out.

Annie Burnell said she never needed a marriage certificate to know John Little was her true love — but without that piece of paper now, she’s in a bad way.

Burnell, 66, is facing eviction from the Jamaica Estates co-op where she’s lived for 20 years. She said she and Little both put money toward the bills, but Little was the only one listed on co-op paperwork.

Now Little’s son by a previous relationship, Shawn, is suing in Queens Housing Court to evict Burnell. Shawn Little’s lawyers say Burnell is a tenant at the Highland Ave. apartment, not a relative.

“We built a life and now the children want to come and take everything away,” she told the Daily News. She called Shawn Little, the administrator of his dad’s estate, “greedy.”

Burnell has COPD and congestive heart failure. She spends her days at home and can barely walk. “I don't know why I should be moved out of my own home,” she said.

The son could not be reached for comment and his lawyer declined to comment.

Burnell met Little in 1991 at his sister’s place. “It was like an unbelievable bond there,” she said. “I loved him so much. He was my world. It was just him and I.”

Both she and Little had kids, but the couple never had children together. Burnell said Little was coming off a tough divorce when she met him.

“I put the life back in him,” she said. As for the couple getting married, Burnell noted, “we didn’t think it was that important to rush it. ... We were already married.”

The problem Burnell now has, according to her lawyer, Garrett Cain of the Legal Aid Society, is there’s no common law marriage in New York State — and no attached laws on inheritance for unmarried New Yorkers.

The couple moved to their current place in 1997 and Little listed Burnell as his fiancée. Both paid the bills, Burnell’s court papers said.

Little worked as a Con Ed electrical technician and Burnell was in the city Department of Health’s internal accounts department.

Their plan was to one day move out of the city and build a cottage, Burnell said. But that never happened.

Burnell said she started getting sick around 2005 and Little, 68, died in January. Two years earlier, he gave Burnell the engagement ring she still wears.

Burnell said she got along well with Little’s three children while their father was alive.

“They played a good game. But when he died, it was a whole new scenario,” she said.

Four months after Little’s death, his son served Burnell with a 30-day notice to get out of the apartment. In July, he filed the eviction petition that’s pending.

Cain said he thinks Burnell has a strong argument that she was effectively married to Little — so Shawn Little can't argue in Housing Court that she was just a tenant.

But if the son opted for another type of case in Supreme Court, where relatives can sue each other over occupancy, Cain said his client could have a harder fight.

There are arguments that can be made about what was fair given the facts, Cain said.

“It’s an incredibly hard remedy to get from a court,” he said.

Cain said people come to him all the time with housing issues, thinking they’re protected because they’re essentially married.

“I haven’t seen this extreme situation yet,” he said.

Burnell said what’s happening to her is “terrible.”

“John would have had nothing to do with this,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the NY Daily News.