Wellness Checks

I have not received rent from a tenant in three months.  Nor has he responded to emails or phone calls, so we have had no communication.  Should I check to see if he is okay?

The short answer is “yes,” you should do a wellness check.  Sadly, due in part to the unprecedented pandemic shutdown, there has been an uptick in suicides and natural cause deaths because of widespread and prolonged isolation.  And in today’s society, many folks live alone and have no one looking after them.  Property managers will tell you that finding deceased persons inside rental housing is becoming more and more commonplace.  For obvious reasons, the quicker a passing is discovered the better this situation resolves for all involved.

Housing providers often ask if such entries are permissible.  This author believes that a good faith belief of a possible passing or, more importantly, someone being physically imperiled does justify an emergency entry.  State law permits immediate entries in the case of an emergency, but clearly a housing provider should never abuse this privilege.  When performing wellness checks, knock first and clearly announce yourself.  Do not barge in.  When you enter, respect the resident’s privacy, meaning just look around to ascertain if someone is injured or is otherwise incapacitated.  Do not use the occasion to snoop around or to video the interior.  If you discover an unfortunate occurrence, promptly contact the police and other appropriate first responders.

Now what if the residence appears to be abandoned?  Under state law, if you have a legitimate belief that the resident has permanently moved out and rent is at least fourteen days in arrears, there is a notice that may be delivered to the premises informing the resident to contact you within eighteen days with an affirmation as to whether or not abandonment has in fact occurred.  If you hear nothing in response to this notice, you may be able to retake possession.  But remember, a unit is not abandoned if anyone, including subtenants, are living there or if furnishings and other indicia of occupancy remain.

Be careful before utilizing the abandonment procedure.  For starters, the shelter-in-place orders have compelled many people to temporarily relocate outside of the area.  Indeed, while many offices remain closed, there is a segment of the populace that remains away.  In addition, the pandemic has spurred several rent relief and abatement laws, meaning residents and owners are afforded the ability to obtain rent payments through March of 2022 from the government.  Thus, residents are often excused from personally paying rent for much of the past two years.  Another consideration in today’s world is that electronic communication and social media platforms allow us to find folks more readily than in past decades.  As such, owners are urged to make and exhaust every good faith effort to locate missing tenants before declaring the housing as abandoned.

In closing, be smart and practical.  During COVID, many in our community were living elsewhere and for whatever reason did not inform their landlord.  That said, some people die alone or become imperiled.  Use discretion and caution when performing a wellness check, and exercise utmost diligence in trying to locate a tenant when commencing the belief of abandonment processes.