PA 17-22—SB 923

Planning and Development Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING THE POSSESSIONS OF DECEASED TENANTS

SUMMARY: This act modifies the process by which a landlord may regain possession of a rental unit after the death of its sole tenant. By law, landlords who follow this process, as an alternative to an eviction action, are protected against an action for entering a dwelling unit without consent. Among other things, the act (1) requires landlords to provide notice to the tenant's emergency contact and his or her next of kin, if known, and (2) establishes a process for removing the tenant's belongings without a judgment of eviction. The act also makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2017

NOTICE OF INTENT TO REMOVE POSSESSIONS

By law, when the sole tenant in a rental unit dies, and the landlord has complied with provisions in a lease that includes the tenant's death as grounds for termination, the landlord may take specific actions to remove the deceased tenant's belongings and reclaim possession of the unit. Landlords that choose to follow this process must send notice to the last-known address of the deceased tenant's next of kin. The act requires the landlord to also send a notice to the last-known address of the tenant's emergency contact, if one is designated.

Prior law required this notice to state that the (1) tenant died, (2) landlord intends to remove the deceased tenant's belongings from the rental unit and re-rent the premises, and (3) landlord will dispose of any belongings not reclaimed within 60 days. The act requires the notice to also (1) state that the emergency contact or next of kin should immediately contact the landlord or probate court for information on how to reclaim the possessions and (2) include the phone number of the probate court for the district in which the rental unit is located.

By law, the notice must (1) be sent by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested; (2) be written clearly and simply; and (3) include the landlord's phone number and address.

PROBATE COURT AFFIDAVIT

By law, a landlord must file an affidavit with the probate court regarding a deceased tenant and his or her personal belongings if the landlord notifies any next of kin or if none is known. Under the act, the landlord must also file an affidavit if no emergency contact was designated. Existing law requires the affidavit to include the (1) deceased tenant's name and address, (2) date he or she died, (3) terms of the lease, and (4) names and addresses of any known next of kin. The act requires the landlord to also include a designated emergency contact's name and address, if any.

By law, if the court receives a request to determine the validity of a will or appoint an administrator of a decedent's estate within 55 days after the date the affidavit is filed, it must immediately notify the landlord. A landlord who receives this notice cannot dispose of the tenant's property or re-rent the dwelling unit.

LANDLORD'S REMOVAL OF DECEASED TENANT'S BELONGINGS

Under prior law, no sooner than 30 days after filing the affidavit, the landlord had to file an inventory of the deceased tenant's belongings and, 15 days after taking the inventory, could remove and store them for an additional 15 days. The act (1) clarifies that the belongings may be moved to storage 15 days after the inventory was filed and (2) specifies that the storage must be secure.

Prior law allowed the landlord to dispose of the unclaimed belongings after this 60-day period in the same manner in which he or she would dispose of an evicted tenant's property (i.e., requiring a state marshal executing an eviction order to remove the possessions and deliver them to a town-designated storage facility for sale at public auction). The act instead allows the landlord, at the end of the 60-day period, to obtain from the probate court a certificate indicating that (1) he or she has filed the inventory and (2) 60 days have elapsed since the affidavit was filed. The landlord may file, at no cost, the certificate and an application, prescribed by the chief court administrator, in the Superior Court for the district where the rental unit is located. The Superior Court clerk must use the probate court certificate to open a summary process file. The certificate must be treated in the same manner as a summary process judgment. It has the same effect and is subject to the same procedures, defenses, and proceedings for reopening, vacating, and stays.

The act allows the landlord to enforce the Superior Court judgment after the (1) clerk opens the summary process file and sends a notice of judgment and (2) appropriate stay of execution expires. The landlord may do so by having a state marshal deliver the deceased tenant's possessions to a town-designated storage facility for sale at public auction.

The act requires the state marshal executing the order to generally follow the same steps he or she would follow for removing an evicted tenant's possessions. This means the state marshal must attempt to notify the deceased tenant's emergency contact and next of kin of the date and time of the removal and possible sale of the property. He or she must give the chief executive officer (CEO) of the town where the rental unit is located 24 hours written notice of the removal and a general description, if known, of the belongings to be removed and a copy of the filed inventory annotated to indicate any reclaimed items.

The deceased tenant's property may be reclaimed at any time before the auction by a probate court-appointed executor or administrator, after he or she pays the town's storage expenses. If the property is not reclaimed within 15 days of its removal, the CEO can sell it at a public auction. The CEO must make reasonable efforts to locate and notify the next of kin of the sale, including posting a notice (1) one week before the auction on a public sign post located near the deceased tenant's rental unit or (2) at some exterior place near the town clerk's office.

Within 30 days after the auction, the CEO must turn over the remaining proceeds to (1) the deceased tenant's estate or (2) if estate proceedings are not initiated during this period, the state treasurer for deposit under the state's escheat laws.