When you own or manage rental properties, you’re used to handling challenging situations, ranging from someone falling behind on payments to property damage. When a death occurs, however, you may not be prepared to handle it, particularly if it’s what’s known as an unattended death. To help you know what to expect and what to do if you’re ever faced with this, we’ve created a checklist for dealing with an unattended death in your rental property.

An unattended death in one in which the person dies while alone and his or her body is not discovered for days, weeks, or even months. The person may have died as a result of natural causes, an accident, a suicide, or a homicide. Although it can be hard to understand how someone’s death can go unnoticed for a lengthy period of time, it can occur when people don’t have family or friends checking in on them, or co-workers wondering where they are.

Steps to Take

Your plan on how to deal with an unattended death in one of your rental properties will not begin at the point of the body being discovered. There are, in fact, numerous actions to take ahead of time. We will list them in this blog post in detail, and you can also download a list of the steps, found here.

The first four steps should be taken before you even sign a lease with a renter, with the first seven taking place before a deceased person is found in a property that you own or manage.

Step One—Gather Emergency Contact Information

Make sure you gather valid emergency contact information during the rental application process. As you already know, renters can be in a rush to secure a new place to live and they don’t always have the phone number of one of their emergency contacts handy. Making sure all information is complete is a crucial step for multiple reasons, and a process that shouldn’t be rushed.

Step Two—Verify Emergency Contact Information

After emergency contact information is provided by a rental applicant, verify the information provided by calling the people listed and ensuring the information is correct. It’s easy, as mentioned in step one, for a prospective renter to hurry when providing information or to make a mistake. In more rare instances, the inaccurate information is deliberate. Trust—but verify.

Step Three—Store in a Safe Place

Store this information in a safe place. Information in hard copy form should be kept in a fireproof safe with online data backed up and safely secured.

Step Four—Update Emergency Contact with Renewals

Each time a renter renews his or her lease, require him or her to update the emergency contact information. Now, more than ever, contact information changes, with people regularly changing cell phone numbers and email addresses.

Step Five—Proactively Partner with a Death Scene Cleanup Professional

Proactively partner with death scene cleanup professionals who have the expertise to handle unattended death situations. You will need an experienced company to clean, decontaminate, disinfect, and deodorize the living space. After death, the body releases intestinal tract bacteria, with decomposition occurring at a rapid rate. This leads to health and safety hazards, so it’s vital to select an experienced cleaning company. It’s best to do so when you can make a thoughtful choice, not when you’re in crisis mode.

Step Six—Make a List of Funeral Homes

As part of your preparation, also make a list of funeral homes, crematories and the like that would handle the removal of remains.

Step Seven—Review Your Landlord Dwelling Policy

You’ll want to take a close look at your landlord dwelling policy. If the policy includes replacement cost reimbursement, damages that can be directly connected to the death of the tenant should be covered, minus any deductibles. If the policy is written to cover actual cash value, though, whenever you need to replace an item (perhaps the carpeting that is destroyed by bodily fluids after a death), your insurance only covers the depreciated value, which is not helpful when you need to replace the carpeting. Consider whether you should boost the strength of your insurance coverage. If your landlord dwelling policy covers loss of rent, you’ll need to show how an unattended death situation led to a lengthier time in between the deceased tenant’s rental and a new renter being able to move in. Have a process in place to ensure you document everything well and follow your insurance company’s requirements.

Note that if your lease agreement requires your tenants to have rental insurance coverage that contains a liability clause, you will also be able to work with the tenant’s insurance company to see what funds will be available.

Step Eight—Contact the Police

If there is a deceased person in one of your rental properties, contact the police immediately. Do not attempt to determine if a crime has been committed on your own: This is for the authorities to decide. Do not touch items in the property, in case an investigation needs to take place. Plus, depending upon how the person died, there could be health-related concerns, so it’s important to leave the premises immediately and wait for the police to arrive.

Step Nine—Arrange Body Removal

Once the proper authorities have given you permission to have the body removed from the property, do so. Work with the police, as needed, to determine who should contact people listed on the emergency contact form, and when. Procedures will vary based upon how the person died and local law enforcement policies.

Step Ten—Secure the Premises

Now it’s time to secure the premises. Because you don’t know who has extra keys to this property (whether the renter had permission to make duplicates or not, it happens), this is the time to change the locks on the doors. Does anything else need done to secure the property, perhaps a window that doesn’t latch? Do it now.

Step Eleven—Reassure the Other Tenants

If this death occurs in multiple-unit building, you may need to reassure other tenants. Be careful not to share any information that is confidential. If this a crime scene, ask the police what information you can and cannot share.

Step Twelve—Contact Your Insurance Company

You’ll need to contact your insurance company to find out what costs will be covered. The cleanup costs may well be covered, so be sure to ask. At this point, you still have other issues to address, but it’s good to get the insurance process in place. Note that you will need to have a death certificate to move forward with the insurance company.

Step Thirteen—Be Careful Not Remove Belongings

Be careful not to remove any belongings from the premises. The only people who can take the deceased tenant’s possessions from the property are those listed as emergency contacts. In the case of a crime scene, the investigating law enforcement department will take what’s considered evidence and may not release the rest of the belongings immediately.

Step Fourteen—Document Who Takes Possessions

In a better-safe-than-sorry move, document who took the possessions and when, and monitor who enters the premises (and when and why). Ideally, there won’t be any disputes arising that make you need to have this information, but it may be important later.

Step Fifteen—Address Out of Date Emergency Contact Information if Needed

Sometimes the emergency contact information is out of date when you try to get the belongings removed from the premises, or emergency contacts don’t respond to your request to remove them. At this point, you will need to go to court to get permission to address the situation.

Step Sixteen—Get Legal Possession of the Property

You must get legal possession of the rental property again. The process to terminate the lease varies by state, with some considering the 30-day period after the death as legal notification, with others requiring a more formal process. Get legal advice, as needed, to ensure you follow proper procedures. Ask your attorney about what the estate pays in this process, such as the remaining or next month’s rent, along with how that affects the security deposit and any other obligations. You should be able to apply the security deposit in ways you normally would (towards damages, unpaid rent, and any other costs named in your rental agreement).

It’s not unusual, however, for the costs to exceed the security deposit. In that case, you will need to work with the executor of the estate to get reimbursement.

Step Seventeen—Call a Professional Cleaning Company

Contact a professional cleaning company that specializes in after-death cleanups, one with a quality reputation, from the list you created in step five. Now is not the time to try out a company that’s brand new to the industry! Choose a company that has the appropriate equipment and disinfectant cleaners, with professionally trained staff. It’s important that you select a company that is reliable and efficient, with detail-oriented employees who also show compassion and exercise discretion.

Biohazard waste and body fluids and tissue must be completely removed after an unattended death. Because one single drop of decomposing bodily fluid can pose extreme risks for untrained people, you need a professional cleaning company that understands the risk of germs, bacteria, airborne and bloodborne pathogens, and active disease. This cleaning team will need to have the appropriate biohazard cleanup processes to clean cloth, carpet, wood, flooring, sub-flooring, between walls, in ceilings and more, cleaning until pathogens are effectively removed.

You also want to ensure that the cleaning company you choose works in accordance with all OSHA and EPA regulations.

Step Eighteen—Get the Premises Rent Ready Again

It is now time to do whatever is necessary to rent the premises to a new tenant. This may include fresh paint or new flooring.

Step Nineteen—Research Property History Disclosure Requirements

Before you begin the process of renting the premises again, make sure you are crystal clear about whether or not your state requires you to disclose that a death occurred on the property. Sometimes, you must. Other times, you only need to disclose that information if someone asks questions about the history of the premises.

Step Twenty—What Could Have Been Done Better?

Once this entire unattended death situation is effectively handled, from start to finish, it makes sense to take what you’ve learned to help ensure that, if this situation ever happens again, you’re in even better shape to handle it. This might mean increasing your insurance limits, adding new funeral homes to your list and so on.

Choose Advanced Bio Treatment for Your Unattended Death Cleanup Services

We know that the death of a tenant can be upsetting, even when it isn’t an unattended death situation—and the shock of an unattended death typically only adds to the confusion and emotional impact. That’s why Advanced Bio Treatment has a live operator available 24/7 at 800-295-1684 to provide you the help you need, right when you need it.

We are available to clean your property after an unattended death, addressing dangerous (even deadly) hazards, including those hidden from sight. And, we’re also committed to giving you the peace of mind you need and deserve, making sure that the premises are sanitized and safe again.

We clean, decontaminate and deodorize, returning the premises to their original state of cleanliness and safety. Advanced Bio Treatment specializes in unattended death clean up scenes, providing the following services.

Biohazard Cleanup

Unattended deaths can create serious biohazard waste. Fortunately, we specialize in this type of cleanup, from start to finish, from decontaminating to sanitizing, and then containing and removing all biohazardous waste.

Bodily Fluid Cleanup

Deadly pathogens are often present in bodily fluids, including but not limited to blood. These pathogens are invisible to the naked eye, so cleaning them requires more than what an untrained eye can provide. Advanced Bio Treatment technicians have the expertise to do the job quickly, safely, and professionally—along with all the necessary equipment and biohazard clothing.

Here are even more reasons to choose Advanced Bio Treatments:

  • We strictly follow OSHA and EPA regulations from collection to disposal.
  • We handle the entire disposal for you.
  • Unlike most cleaning companies, we go beyond covering up decomposition odors (ones that return in a few hours) to permanently removing odors from rooms, carpets, furniture and more.
  • We neutralize biological hazards and odors at the molecular level.

If you have questions about our unattended death cleaning services, you can contact us online. If you have a situation that needs to be dealt with immediately, use our 24/7 number: 800-295-1684. We’re here to help, even with the toughest cases.

Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment