Driving to work one Summers’ day a few years ago, I was listening to the radio when I heard that there was a police incident in a street where I managed a property.
I listened intently as we had not been able to get hold of the tenants for a few days….. my spider senses were tingling….their rent was behind and we had been trying to get hold of them without any success.
When the radio announced that police were onsite investigate a “double death” my stomach lurched. I knew it that they were talking about our tenants and our property. Luckily I had a contact in the police and they were contacted, they confirmed that yes it was our property. Damn! OMG it was us!
The tenants were twenty somethings and we had never had any problems with them throughout the tenancy. Hence why it was so unusual that their rent was not in the account as usual. My heart immediately went to to the parents of the young boys, who were now experiencing the loss of their children. Those poor parents. I personally really hate it when a tenant dies, I have had to deal with 6 in my career so fortunately there was no emotional panic and I could be the professional property manager that the parents needed.
My job was to now support all parties involved (including my staff). I actually had an ex-staff member who once told me how he had found a tenant hanging in a property – my ex-colleague was approximately 23 years old and he was doing a periodic inspection. He called the office to tell them what had happened and unfortunately he was left there to deal with the situation all on his own. His boss did not arrive to assist! I was disgusted by this. I would never do that. This is not something that a young professional should be dealing with, it will have lasting effects. If a tenant passes away at a property, the owner of the business should be out dealing with it, not the younger ones. (Rant over!)
Thoughts kept running through my head; how do I tell my client that this has happened? She will be devastated. Has anyone told the parents yet? Hopefully the police had already informed them. How did they pass away? What had happened? What did I need to clean up? I know that the last question sounds very basic but at the end of the day someone has to take care of this and usually it is the property manager.
So I dashed over to the property, luckily the police were still there and they advised that the bodies had been removed (you could audibly hear my sigh of relief). I was told that it did not look suspicious and that they suspected that it was a drug overdose.
When I went to have a look I could see that the tenants had moved a mattress from the bedroom to the lounge room where they passed away. Unfortunately they had been undiscovered for a few days and it was now my job to arrange the forensic clean up.
So let me tell you what the practicalities of this entail:
Getting the preferred contact details of a forensic clean up team from the police, booking them in and getting them to sort out the problems left behind. I did this and was then informed that they had to remove some of the carpet because bodily fluids had saturated through the mattress and the carpet was unable to be salvaged.
So I had to arrange for a carpet supplier to quote to replace and/or patch the carpet. In the end we voted to replace the carpet entirely, (let’s face it you probably would not have wanted to just patch that carpet anyway).
In the meantime I had made contact with the tenants’ emergency contacts and I arranged to meet them onsite to allow them access to look over the property and the possessions of their loved ones. Be under no illusions, this is a very emotional time for these people (as well as whomever is hosting this inspection). It is not something for the fainthearted.
Once the initial inspection was carried out, we then had to field questions, when do they have to get all of their possessions from the property, what happens with the bond, were they paid up to date etc. It is my experience that the relatives of the deceased want to ensure that they do not inconvenience the landlords (and they are usually very apologetic for their loved ones passing away, and causing a problem). It is weird but in my opinion, it tends to follow the same pattern.
As you can imagine our client was very upset about the situation, her heart went out to the families that were affected. Her main aim was to ensure that she could do everything possible for the families.
We made arrangements for the tenants possessions to be removed and their family paid the rent that was outstanding. The bond was returned and they were then able to mourn their loved ones.
We had to now balance the sensitivities of the bereaved and getting the property back on the rental market to save our client from any further financial loss. This was a delicate process. The property itself was now what they call a “stigmatised property”, we had to let everyone who inspected it that 2 people had passed away in it. Which in turn meant that the pool of tenants was dramatically reduced. Not many tenants will secure a property where someone has recently passed away – let alone two people.
I remember going to carry out an inspection one evening and finding a “goodbye” letter at the back stairs (which I can only assume was from one of the tenant’s girlfriends). I have to admit that my heart was a broken after finding that.
So….. it took a while and we reduced the rent, a few weeks later we found a lady who felt that she could make it work and we arranged to move her in.
The silver lining of all of this is that my client was smart and she had insurance which covered the death of a tenant. Her policy covered her for 6 weeks’ worth of rent in this instance as well as the cost of the forensic clean up. If she did not have this insurance policy she would have been much more on edge and stressed about the situation. I expect that she would not have been able to afford to allow the bereaved time to make the appropriate arrangements. The insurance policy made things a lot easier for her, the parents and us to deal with.
What is the moral of the story? Please ensure that you have adequate landlord insurance.