Who is responsible for cleaning out an apartment after a death?
**Note**This is not legal advice. For specific legal advice, you need to consult a lawyer to help make the best decision for you and the estate of the deceased.
When someone passes away in a rented apartment, the person responsible for any necessary cleanup is the person on the lease.
If only one person is on the lease and that is the person who died, then the responsible party for any damage done to the unit is the estate of the deceased. The responsibility to pay for any necessary biohazard cleanup does not extend to any next of kin or beneficiaries. If the estate of the deceased is not enough to cover the damages done, the responsibility lies with the property owner. While the family can certainly make sure the property is cleaned up, they are not obligated to do so. If there is an additional person on the lease and they are living, then the responsibility of the cleanup may fall to them. Before moving forward with the cleanup, it may be helpful to obtain a copy of the lease from the property owner.
Some things to keep in mind while navigating the decisions around biohazard cleanup is the damage may be extensive and more expensive to clean depending on how long the deceased’s body was left undiscovered. Fluids follow gravity and may have seeped between floor seams, into drywall, or into the building structure. To decontaminate the property and make sure it is safe for future tenants, we may need to remove flooring or carpet. The property owner may then require you to replace the floor or any other building materials we need to take out.
If the door to the apartment is shut with a coroner’s seal, then only the coroner or the legal next of kin can cross that threshold. This ensures the protection of all property until the rightful person can access it after someone has passed away. In some cases, the seal can be broken with the appropriate legal authority present if biohazards need to be cleaned up. When the next of kin go into the property to claim the deceased’s belongings, they can take what they want and leave the rest, or they can take it all. It’s entirely up to them.
We are always happy to walk you through the process and discuss all your options.