A tenant in a California apartment complex telephoned Eco Bear about the unattended death of another resident. The unattended death occurred in an apartment a few floors above where the tenant who contacted Eco Bear resides. The remains of the tenant that experienced an unattended death had been left in the unit undiscovered for an unknown period of time.
As a result of the unattended death, various negative ramifications came to pass. These included:
- Water damage that extended at least as far as a few floors down, including the unit occupied by the tenant who reached out to Eco Bear
- Foul odor that permeated different levels of the apartment building
- Some structural damage to flooring and walls in, around, and below the unit where the death occurred
When the tenant living in a unit below the death scene contacted Eco Bear, about a week had passed since law enforcement, and the coroner completed their investigation of the matter at the scene. These officials legally had turned control over the premises back to those with a lawful connection to the unit. These individuals included building management, building owners, and family members of the deceased individual.
Management at the apartment building has taken no steps to get unattended death cleaning underway. The building manager seems to be indicating to the other tenants that he is not exactly sure what he should do in response to the aftermath of the unattended death in one of the units. The reality is that inaction by management and building owners can violate the legal rights and interests of other tenants and potentially their health and well-being.
A Renter’s Rights Pursuant to California Landlord and Tenant Law
In California, tenants have certain rights when an unattended death in another unit affects their ability to enjoy their residence. These rights are designed to ensure that tenants are able to live in a safe and habitable environment. These rights also oblige landlords to take necessary steps to address the situation promptly and professionally.
- The right to a habitable and safe living space is guaranteed under California Civil Code § 1941.1. This means that the landlord is required to provide tenants with a clean, safe, and livable space in which to reside. The stench alone that can emanate from an apartment unit in which an unattended death occurred can be more than enough to render neighboring apartments unlivable.
- The right to have the unit professionally cleaned and decontaminated by the landlord is mandated by California Civil Code § 1941.2. This means that the landlord is responsible for hiring a professional cleaning and decontamination service to remove any hazardous materials or substances from the affected unit. Similarly, if the aftermath of an unattended death reaches beyond the unit where the passing occurred, appropriate professional remediation must also be undertaken.
- The right to have all common areas cleaned and decontaminated by the landlord is covered by California Civil Code § 1941.2. The landlord must also hire a professional cleaning and decontamination service to clean any common areas that may have been affected by the incident. By definition and design, this includes professional odor remediation.
- The right to be notified by the landlord of the unattended death is required under California Civil Code § 1714.9. The landlord may not be obliged to identify the cause of death, but must advise tenants that this type of passing did occur.
- The right to receive information about the unattended death from the landlord is also guaranteed under California Civil Code § 1714.9. What this means is that the landlord must provide tenants with any information they request regarding the incident to which they legally are entitled.
- The right to terminate the lease if the unit is uninhabitable or unsafe due to the unattended death is outlined in California Civil Code § 1942. In certain circumstances, tenants may have the right to leave the property without any penalty if it is no longer safe or habitable due to the incident.
- The right to a pro-rata rent reduction for any period of time that the unit is uninhabitable or unsafe is also guaranteed under California Civil Code § 1942. This means that tenants are entitled to a reduction in rent for any period of time that they are unable to live in the unit due to the incident.
- The right to have the landlord provide alternative housing during the professional cleaning and decontamination process is a necessary step to ensure tenants’ safety. If the cleaning process is extensive, tenants may need to vacate their unit temporarily, and the landlord is responsible for providing alternative housing.
- The right to privacy during the cleaning and decontamination process is outlined in California Civil Code § 1954. Tenants have the right to privacy during the cleaning process, and the landlord must take steps to ensure that their privacy is respected.
- The right to take legal action against the landlord if any of these rights are violated is an important protection for tenants. If a landlord fails to adhere to any of these rights, tenants have the right to take legal action to protect their rights and seek compensation for any damages they may have suffered.
It’s important to note that these rights may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the unattended death and the details of the tenant’s lease agreement. Tenants should be aware of their rights under California law and take necessary steps to protect themselves in situations in which the livability of their units is impacted by an unattended death in a neighboring apartment. This can include seeking the assistance of an attorney as well as of a professional odor remediation company like Eco Bear.