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If a loved one dies, beware the 'renter's death penalty'

Landlord can legally ask for remaining rent on lease
Posted at 11:26 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 08:13:59-04

If someone you love who lived in an apartment dies, you might assume the landlord will just tear up the lease.

But many grieving families find that is often not the case.

Carrie Davis is mourning the loss of her beloved mother and battling her mom's apartment complex at the same time.

Despite her mother's passing, Davis said Northwest Woods in Springfield Township, Ohio, still wants the equivalent of six months rent.

"They said we needed to sign a buyout agreement," Davis said. "That could leave us paying a total of six months rent in order to get out of that one-year lease."

She can't believe the family has to keep paying for an empty apartment.

"The grandkids are not going to get the gifts bequested to them this Christmas in my mom's will because we have to pay an apartment complex," she said.

Law is on landlord's side in most states

Although this might seem unfair, most states have laws to protect the landlord, not the deceased person's family, when this happens.

Although the survivors are not billed directly, the dying person's estate is, and sometimes their estate must pay 10 or 11 months rent on an apartment that will not be used.

Family law attorney Pavan Parikh said this is often called the "renter's death penalty" — a penalty for dying.

"The law is pretty clear on this that when someone passes away, the decedent's estate is still responsible for the full term of the lease," he explained.

A handful of states such as Pennsylvania and Colorado have recently outlawed this, but Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky have not.

Parikh said he believes more states should look at changing the law out of compassion for grieving families.

"It is a scenario where the law needs to do a better job of contemplating," he said.

We contacted the complex owner, Nexus Property Management, but were told "we have no comment" by the woman who answered. She would not put us in touch with the complex's attorney.

Although Northwest Woods and Nexus Property Management has done nothing wrong in this case and legally have every right to ask for the remaining rent, Carrie Davis would like to see tougher laws to protect the survivors of those who pass away.

"We should protect our residents, our elderly, our disabled, and even our COVID victims, from incurring thousands of dollars in debt just for dying," she said.

Attorney Parikh, meantime, says taking an apartment complex to court could cost more than the rent.

He suggests negotiating with the landlord, so you don't waste your money.


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