Tenant Found Dead In Unit... I Would Appreciate Some Advice.

15 Replies

Hello BP, 

This is a tough subject and I am looking for some help from my peers on BP about how to best handle the situation. 

I just had my manager call and let me know one of my tenants passed. Supposedly the son had been calling their elderly mother the past few days and was not getting an answer. He stopped over and asked our manager to check on the unit with him and found her... Their guess is she has probably been dead for a few days based on the smell in the unit. 

My first question is clean up. I dont know the extent of the damage as I am out of state and didnt feel that was right to press questions on my manager given this just happened. I wanted to provide my verbal support and give everyone time to deal with the situation. After the authorities take the body and finish anything else needed I want to be sure that there are going to be no future health risks for other tenants so proper cleaning is in order. Does anyone have experience with this or can point me to some good resources to understand the process?

The next question is tough for me. I dont want to sound insensitive but it is a concern and I am hoping to get others opinions. The son, a doctor, signed the lease and pays for the mother. Moving forward there will be an extensive professional cleaning required, replacing flooring, and the time it takes to get that done even though she is no longer living there. I would assume the unit would not be ready until January 1 at least. All of that will rack up $2k to $3k in expenses. Technically the son is required to cover all damages since he signed the lease. I know he is in a financial situation where the expense is not an issue, but morally I feel a sense of responsibility to cover some of the costs out of respect. 

Part of me says that I would ask him to cover Decembers rent, the professional cleaning and a portion of the carpet. I would cover the other portion and not require him to continue paying any rent after December 31. 

Again, I am not trying to sound insensitive, but I have a family to support and this real estate is how I do that so I have my daughter and fiancee to keep in mind as well. 

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. 

Thank you,

Joel 

Unfortunate situation. Do you know the extent of what is soiled in the apartment? Many people pass away in bed, which wouldn’t warrant new flooring. If she did pass away on the carpet and was only there a few days the carpets would probably just need to be cleaned, if she was there a few weeks it might need replacing. Without the gritty details I wouldn’t jump to conclusions that it will cost that much. I would reach out to the son and offer condolences, then ask how he would like to proceed with his mother’s belonging and clean up. I’d be surprised if this cost a lot of money

Why does clean up cost so much? I’d try to keep it under $1,500 and have it turned over to a new tenant ASAP.

You probably have to go through executor before you can get the unit back which can take some time. A lease doesn’t terminate on death and is considered a asset/liability of the deceased

@Joel Florek the living people are the ones you need to be concerned about infecting you; no special cleanup is necessary, there may be a small amount of discharge (urine/feces) after someone passes. If it comes down to it, bleach will kill everything, but a cleaning solution with disinfectant will do. I've been an RN for 7 years and in between patients (living and dead) the rooms are simply washed down with either bleach or alternative disinfectants, day after day after day. 

@Joel Florek

I had a tenant die (overdose) in a unit at the end of May. My insurance covered a bioclean company to come and remediate the damage: That cleaning included deoderizing, removing affected flooring and removing and disposing a mattress. The family removed the tenant's belongings.  The security deposit was enough to cover the insurance deductible, though we chose to donate it to a trust set up for the tenant's young son. We were also out $150 for our cleaning company and a couple of weeks rent.

This was an overdose and the insurance  didn't cover any drug related damage but did cover damages from body in unit for several days. I had quotes at $1500 and $4500. My insurance co. thouht $1500 was cheap.

. @Gregory Byrnes makes a good point — depending on how her estate is being administered, there may be funds available to pay ongoing expenses. There are Aton If factors that can come into play though. If the decedent didn’t really any any assets then there it can be harder to collect.

I agree with @Nolan Martineau’s suggestion about reaching out to offer condolences and find out about timing for collecting belongings. I’d be surprised if they would have any intention of having her personal effects all taken out before the end of the month, so that would open up a dialog to confirm they’d keep paying rent on the unit through the end of the year, which could lead to another window to address clean up costs (if that isn’t something covered by insurance).

If death doesn’t terminate a lease, would there be a way to mention that of course you wouldn’t expect to require the estate to continue payment till the end of its term? I only also because at lease it’s like a concession — you’re negotiating for costs to cover cleaning/vacancy expenses, but a comment like that could make it seem like you’re doing them a favor (even if the alternative — asking a dead person’s child to keep paying rent — may seem a little ludicrous.)

@Gregory B. @Raquel Doheny Since the lease was signed by the son, the probate of the estate should not effect it at all. The only way it would is if the son just signed as a guarantor, but the way @Joel Florek stated it, it seems that the son is the primary leaseholder. Legally, the son is required to honor the remainder of the lease regardless of who occupied the unit and what happened. Morally, that's a whole different decision. 

@Ryan Kunzmann I missed that detail, you're right!  Then I would imagine making him  feel like it's quid pro quo could go even further, since he's obligated to pay the lease until the end of the term.  

Forget about the sons situation and take care of your business concerns. I have had many tenants pass away and it is important that you pass along your condolences and then get directly to business. Death does not end responsibilities. Some one must pay and in this case it is the son.

Your state landlord regulations will usually cover death of a tenant however in this case the son is the lease holder not the mother, and as such nothing has changed for you or him. He can get a new sub let tenant or he can honour the language of the lease, what ever that may be in regards to breaking a lease.

She's dead, take your feelings and the son's out of the equation. No place for feelings in business and he is likely a big boy prepared to take care of his responsibilities. Tell the son exactly what he is responsible for according to his lease.

All you have to do is follow the lease as you would with any tenant. Take the clean up costs out of his deposit and charge him the lease breaking fee.

I would contact your insurance company. They should have a restoration company to help with the clean up. I’ve worked in the restoration industry and trust. You want this professionally done. Also, your insurance should cover for something like this. If not, write it off on your taxes. I wouldn’t ask the son for any money.

I would give the son your condolences and ask him if he would like you to re-rent the unit after he vacates the unit or if he would like to keep the unit until lease end. That way your making him aware it’s his responsibility to deal with it until lease end. But if he wants an out, to let you know. I would give him the name of a cleaning service also.

Thank you for the advice everyone. 

Based on what I know now and talking with the deceased tenants son he will continue to pay up to two months rent until I can fill the unit which I should be able to in the next few weeks. He will also pay the move out fee per the lease agreement. Currently he has gone through and done a deep cleaning of the unit himself and we are having a certified professional through Service Master to do a free assessment to ensure there are no other bacterial issues to be concerned about. If there are any issues he will be responsible to work with that professional to cover the expense but I will be in touch through the process. I did mention that if the cleaning tech determined that the carpet in the portion of the room where she was found needed to be removed he would not be responsible for the full cost as we were planning on replacing the carpeting with linoleum in the dinning area anyway. 

Overall the conversation went very well with the son, much better then I thought. I gave him a few days before talking business with him to try and give him some space to work through some things on his end. Number one thing I tried to do was be sincere in my condolences and let him know I will do everything I can to help make things easier for him. The primary thing I could control was getting him connected with the cleaning professional and starting to advertise the unit/reaching out to our waiting list to get someone in as soon as possible. He mentioned he was also starting an estate sale over the weekend to help get rid of his mothers belongings so I mentioned that I would help spread the word to our renters who I thought may be interested. 

Again, thank you for the help and advice, and feel free to post up any other experiences you may have had in the past with respect to these situations as it helps everyone! 

Joel

Glad it all worked out well.
One question that came to my mind reading all comments here...did you deal directly with the son and the property? Or did your property manager handle it?
In my view, your property manager should have taken the lead on this whole matter, following your specific state’s property code. It often makes it easier to treat your rental as a business, when your property manager takes care of things for you. But in this case it sounded like you had to get involved. Any particular reason?

Originally posted by @Anderson Schulle :

Glad it all worked out well.
One question that came to my mind reading all comments here...did you deal directly with the son and the property? Or did your property manager handle it?
In my view, your property manager should have taken the lead on this whole matter, following your specific state’s property code. It often makes it easier to treat your rental as a business, when your property manager takes care of things for you. But in this case it sounded like you had to get involved. Any particular reason?

 I have a maintenance manager/resident manager who got the call to help get the unit opened up but ultimately I am the property manager for my buildings so it is my responsibility to deal with these particular issues. 

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