The onsite manager of an apartment building contacted Eco Bear in regard to the matter of an unattended death of a tenant in one of the units. The manager was not 100 percent sure how long the tenant had been deceased before his body was discovered. The manager honestly admits that she lacks a clear understanding of what she needs to do in the aftermath of this startling, grim discovery. The fortunate reality is that most people will go through their entire lives without discovering a person’s remains who has suffered an unattended death. Indeed, even for apartment building managers, discovering an unattended death in rental property is the exception and not the rule.
Definition and Overview of an Unattended Death
Before diving more deeply into a discussion of what an apartment building manager needs to do when this type of situation arises, it is important to understand what exactly is meant by the term “unattended death.”
Unattended death is a term used to describe a situation where an individual dies without medical supervision or support and with no one else present. An unattended death typically involves three elements:
- The death occurs when the individual is alone or without medical assistance. This means that no medical professional or caregiver (or anyone else) was present or available to provide care or support at the time of death. The individual may have been struggling with a medical condition or injury or may have experienced sudden and unexpected symptoms that led to their death.
- The death is not immediately discovered or reported. In many cases, an unattended death is not discovered until multiple days, weeks, or even months after it occurs. This may be due to a number of factors, such as the individual living alone or lack of contact with family or friends.
- The circumstances surrounding the death can initially be unclear or even suspicious. Unattended deaths can occur as a result of natural causes, such as a heart attack or stroke. However, these types of deaths can also be the result of foul play, neglect, or abuse. Because these deaths are often discovered after a significant amount of time has passed, it can be challenging to determine the exact cause of death and whether any criminal activity was involved.
Action Steps for an Apartment Building Manager When Unattended Death Is Discovered
Discovering an unattended death in an apartment building is not only a difficult situation for an apartment building manager but can be a traumatic experience for everyone involved. The building manager needs to act swiftly, professionally, and efficiently to ensure the well-being of tenants and to minimize the negative impact on the community. With that said, it is not surprising that an apartment building manager does not know what to do after discovering human remains in a unit where an unattended death occurred at some time in the past.
There are some crucial steps that an apartment building manager needs to be aware of and needs to take in the aftermath of the discovery of an unattended death. The most significant of these steps necessary to protect the well-being of tenants and the apartment community itself are:
- Secure the area: The first and foremost step is to secure the area where the unattended death. Restrict access to the apartment and surrounding area to prevent contamination or evidence tampering. This step is important for the safety of the community and to ensure that the authorities can conduct a thorough investigation when they arrive at the scene.
- Notify the authorities: The building manager should call 911 and report the situation to the police. The police and the coroner will need to investigate the death and ultimately determine the cause. Cooperating fully with the authorities and providing any information they request is important.
- Notify the next of kin: If the deceased’s identity is known, the next of kin should be notified of the situation. The building manager should handle this task delicately, with empathy and kindness. Communication with the next of kin should be respectful and compassionate when delivering the news. An unexpected situation like an unattended death underscores the need for an apartment building manager to maintain emergency contact information for all tenants.
- Notify other tenants: The building manager should inform other tenants of the situation without giving too many details to protect the deceased’s privacy. This can be done through a notice in a common area or a letter sent to each unit. Keeping tenants informed and updated about the situation is vital to prevent rumors and speculation. It is also necessary to ensure tenants understand the process that will be employed to deal with any biohazards at the scene of the death and what specific steps are being taken to ensure that no other tenants are exposed to any hazardous substances.
- Clean the apartment: Once the investigation is complete and the authorities release the apartment, arrange for a professional cleaning service like Eco Bear to decontaminate and clean the space. This is important for future tenants’ health and safety and ensuring that the apartment is ready for occupancy. The cleaning process should be thorough to remove all traces of the incident.
- Review policies: It is important to review policies and procedures to ensure that they are up to date and can effectively address similar situations in the future. This can include reviewing emergency response plans, tenant communication protocols, and cleaning procedures. The building manager should work with the authorities to understand the best practices to handle such situations.