Dead tenants – Next-of-kin status does not guarantee access.
Death and taxes – the two things we’ve been told to always count on in life. As landlords, you are routinely reminded about the need to think of, and address, your tax issues. But how often are you faced with a situation where you, as a landlord, must deal with death – specifically the death of one of your tenants?
Luckily CT law provides a roadmap through such sensitive situations with laws dictating how landlords and property owners must deal with the issues of possession of a unit, and the disposition of the dead tenant’s property and personal effects, upon their death. However, despite the state’s guidelines, how easily you navigate the process may depend largely on how well and how early you’ve prepared for the situation.
A few simple questions can help identify how prepared you actually are:
- How does the lease address a tenant’s death?
- >Does the prospective tenant application contain a “next-of-kin” section that requests and captures all pertinent information – along with a list of the central players if a will is involved (for example, the names and contact information for the tenant’s executor and attorney)?
- What are the operational policies and procedures for dealing with someone seeking access to the unit to remove the deceased’s possessions and personal property?
- How are any residual rent, damage, and/or storage amounts to be collected?
Unfortunately, there’s more to dealing with the death of a tenant than simply contacting the next-of-kin and giving them the key. One client tried this and learned the hard way that handing over a key is an invitation for the “executor” to move-in.
That client called us months later to complain that the deceased’s possessions were still in the unit and that the “executor” had not paid anything toward the rent
or rental arrearage since she moved-in. To add insult to injury, she had no plans to remove herself or the dead tenant’s possessions from the premises. It was a long, complicated, and expensive experience to resolve the issues that the landlord had created – an experience that ultimately ended up involving both the housing and probate courts.
Also beware of the next-of-kin who, despite simply stating that she was acting on behalf of the dead tenant and the rest of his/her family, does not actually taken up residence in the unit, but simply proceeds to remove the deceased’s personal property from the apartment. If other family members take the issue to the police department or court, the landlord could face arrest or a
civil entry & detainer lawsuit for providing the next-of-kin access to the unit without appropriate legal authority.
This could prove to be a very costly mistake for the landlord. If a civil case is filed, the legally-authorized family members can claim double damages against the landlord – the value of the possessions taken times two. It is not unusual for testimony to be given by plaintiff family members stating that upon his/her death, the
dead tenant’s possessions included a flat-screen TV, laptop, desktop computer, surround-sound audio components, jewelry, cash, and priceless family heirlooms – all of which no longer seem to be in the unit. And guess what? The next-of-kin, who was initially given the key, is nowhere to be found. Translation – a very bad situation for the landlord.
CT law does, however, provide some good news for landlords faced with the death of a tenant. The deceased’s estate must pay the landlord for any unpaid rent, damages, and storage costs incurred. Our landlord clients have found great success in pursuing such claims against the dead tenant’s estate, particularly where the dead tenant had liquid assets like a checking or savings account and investments. However, keep in mind that the statutes governing the administration of an estate have pecific requirements and timeframe(s) for how and when to file a claim against the estate. Consult with your landlord attorney if you find yourself faced with this situation.
Now is the time to evaluate your preparation and planning for a dead tenant. As with all your business matters, don’t wait until the situation presents itself before you begin to lay out your approach.
Set high standards and then stick to them.
When I originally wrote the article, I was in the most magical place on earth. As I review it for an encore in this month’s newsletter, I am preparing to return to central Florida for another visit. Considering the high standards that are often exceeded there, we make it habit to visit when we can. Here’s the original article with some updates based on new experiences we’ve had as consumers in the wonderful world of make-believe.
This month, I have the awesome fortune of writing to you from the greatest place on earth – if their advertising is to be believed. What it means, though, is I have had an opportunity to test out the reputation of the most highly respected service company in the world. And, I must say I am impressed.
I have had two occasions to raise to their attention a situation with which I was disappointed. None of these situations was serious, but small complaints that I
wanted them to hear. What I observed was a well tuned organization prepared to address any concern, no matter how small, ensuring that I was satisfied with the outcome right away.
I didn’t get any special privileges, nor was I seeking any. I didn’t get any complimentary offerings, nor did I want any. What I got was something that any service
company can give with little or no expense – an answer. Someone took the time to hear my concern and provided me an answer. In one instance, it was an answer with which I disagreed, but it was an answer. The gnawing uncertainty that had eaten at me since the question cropped up was reduced to a simple gas bubble because I now, at least, knew the answer. And, the answer was simple and simply explained.
In a more recent instance, I saw someone take ownership of a tough situation and see it through to its most efficient conclusion. Bill, the service company’s employee, saw that we needed assistance and promptly stepped up to offer aid. This situation was a little different than others, because my desired outcome was the key
factor in him advising on how to achieve it. That is not always to most comfortable spot to be in. My decision, considering all of the factors known and unknown, would determine their course of action and the ultimate outcome of the situation. What I wanted was them to simply tell me what to do. What I got was a compassionate ear, some thoughts about options we had, and patience. Yes, Bill remained at the ready to assist whenever I determined what outcome I wanted, and, once I made my choices known, he quickly jumped into action and created the end result I wanted. Bill stood ready to assist, offer advice, and act promptly – he owned the situation and made sure he was prepared to achieve the outcome once my decisions were made.
So, why the title to this tip? The company’s policy is the high standard and the service orientation. They get answers to the questions and make sure their guests
concerns are heard. With millions of guests each year, that’s a pretty high standard. How do they stick to those standards? Simple, honest, thoughtful listening and employees who believe in the company’s mission of perfect customer service. No, the experience wasn’t perfect, but their dedication to that standard satisfied my need for understanding.
Perhaps all service companies and individuals, yes I am talking to landlords, can learn from that experience. I know many who already have. We sure do.
The reading of this newsletter does not form an attorney-client relationship. The contents of this newsletter are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to imply or predict the outcome of any legal matter that you may be considering or be involved in. The Landlord Law Firm makes no warranties of any kind regarding the information contained in this newsletter.