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How Do Executors Deal With Rental Apartments of Deceased New Yorkers?

Three colorful, red, brown and white, apartment buildings facades with emergency escapes. Typical New York City rental complexes with fire escape stairs next to the windows.

{Read in 6 Minutes}  As a Trusts and Estates attorney, I frequently represent Executors. This is often a start-to-finish project from offering the Will for probate, obtaining Letters, Accounting, and making distributions to the beneficiaries.

While there are often similarities from one Estate to another, every deceased New Yorker leaves behind a different scenario for the Executor to deal with. Often the Executor is tasked with collecting assets such as real estate, bank accounts, intellectual property, or tangible personal property, for the Executor to collect and distribute to the beneficiaries. However, sometimes there are things that the Executor needs to deal with that do not ultimately translate into money that goes up to the beneficiary. Here I’m talking about rental apartments.

Why are rental apartments in New York so different? Well, first, a rental apartment is what’s considered a “wasting asset.” This means that the Executor and the Estate need to pay ongoing costs related to the apartment until the Executor can surrender it to the landlord. Unlike other assets that may continue to earn income, a wasting asset is, as the name would suggest, wasting: it does nothing but drag down the finances until such time as the Executor can dispose of it. So, what does a good Executor do when they are serving an Estate of a deceased New Yorker with a rental apartment? Here are some helpful things to consider: 

  • Assess the Situation

The Executor must first identify the term of the lease and the amount of the monthly rental payment. Also, was the Deceased current on their rental payments? Sometimes, if the Deceased suffered a long illness, they might be several months behind. Conversely, the Deceased may have a credit if they overpaid, and there may also be a security deposit that the landlord is holding that may ultimately be refunded to the Estate. Understanding the current state of the financial obligation is an important first step.

  • Communicate with the Landlord for Access

Sometimes the Executor may have the keys to the Deceased’s apartment, other times they may not. If they do not have the keys, the Executor should immediately call the landlord or superintendent to arrange access. It is common for the owner or management of the building to ask for a certificate of Letters Testamentary evidencing the Executor’s authority to act on behalf of the Estate. Note — it may also be necessary to contact the owner or the management company if this is an attended building with door staff who, realizing that the Executor is not a resident, will likely stop the Executor from entering the apartment. A bit of planning in advance can help.

  • Dealing With the Police Seal If the Apartment Has Been Sealed by the Police

When a person who lives alone dies at home, the police will usually seal the apartment with police tape. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the person was murdered or a victim of a crime; it just means that the police are ensuring that nobody enters the apartment until the Surrogate’s Court appoints an Executor. If this is the case, you should contact the local precinct before heading over to the apartment, to discuss: 1) the logistics of entering the apartment and removing the tape and 2) gaining access to a key if the police vouchered some of the Deceased’s personal belongings (wallet, keys, access cards, etc.) when they sealed the apartment.

  • Set a Timeline to Vacate the Apartment

There’s no hard and fast time when an Executor must surrender the apartment back to the landlord, and most landlords are willing to work with Executors so long as they are making a diligent effort to clean out the apartment within a reasonable timeframe (usually within two to three months of the Executor’s appointment.)

This may deal with disposing of junk or unwanted items in the apartment, arranging for the apartment to be left “broom clean,” and often scheduling a date and time for an inspection by the superintendent or owner. The Executor should also then set a date for receipt of the security deposit refund (if any).

So unlike a coop or cooperative apartment that the decedent owns, when dealing with a rental apartment, it is important that the Executor come up with a plan and move quickly to avoid depletion of Estate assets or indefinite payment of rent. The good news is that the Executor need not embroil himself with the details of selling an apartment such as whether to paint it or improve it in any way or dealing with open houses, inspections, and an eventual closing.

For more information on this topic, please, contact me.