Over the past 12 years we have been asked over and over, “Who is responsible for cleanup after a biohazard incident, the landlord or the family?” The answer to this is not always clear and many factors play a role in determining who is responsible.
Let me preface this post. I am NOT an attorney and am not pretending to be an attorney. Do not take this post as legal advice. This post is solely based on years of experience, guidelines from actual attorneys who have guided our clients over the years and from sitting on the sidelines watching how job sites play out legally. Always check with an attorney if you have a legal question or need legal guidance.
Having said that here is an actual attorney who has posted about this in the past:
Deceased tenant’s estate is responsible for any and all bills and invoices associated with an estate. Landlord may sue the estate to cover any actual damages suffered. But the tenant’s extended family is not responsible for paying for cleanup. Period.
The reality is that most tenants don’t have enough stuff to their name that could be sold to make up the difference, and their estate consists of a car and a couple hundred bucks worth of personal belongings…so yes, the landlord will be the one who repairs the apartment, dumpsterizes the contents, then keeps the deposit to cover cost damages, notice sent to the tenant’s last known address,
If I were the tenant’s family, depending on the amount of stuff tenant had, I’d tell the landlord to keep the stuff in the apartment, and have a nice day.
To answer this bluntly the landlord is usually responsible, at least initially. Minnesota has state laws in place that protect tenants from harm. The tenants I am referring too would be other tenants in apartments or even future tenants in single-family homes that may rent the home after an incident such as a death by suicide.
Now if a tenant hurts themselves in their unit and bleeds on the floor this is not the responsibility of the landlord. But when those biohazards get outside the apartment and into common areas then it is the responsibility of the landlord to make sure it is cleaned up to “protect” the “other tenants” in the building.
Many times over the years we will get a call from a family member after their loved one died in an apartment. The cause of death really makes no difference. The landlord has been telling them they are responsible for cleaning up the unit. While there may be an obligation for the tenant or their estate at this point to cover the costs this does not mean the family who did not sign a lease with the landlord has any burden in these scenarios. A landlord cannot force a family member to pay for or do anything unless they had a legal obligation to do so.
Lets circle back to the “other tenants” portion of this. The structure itself has been damaged. the landlord is responsible for the damages getting repaired because of this dmamage. The insurance policy for the building itself will often cover these losses. That insurance policy or the landlord may have a claim to come back and sue the deceases estate for the costs associated with the cleanup but again this is after the cleanup has occurred and the cleanup must occur because the landlord has taken control of the cleanup, not the tenants family. This all boils down to the fact the landlord is responsible to protect the other tenants who either live in the building or may move in after the incident.
But what about the tenants renters policy? These rental policies do not cover the damages related to biohazards. in 12 years I have seen only one provide coverage and in this scenario it was a very, very unique situation in which the tenant herself had a son on military leave come home for Christmas and commit suicide. In this case, the renters policy and the landlords policy decided to split the cost. Never again have we had a renters policy cover anything since that time.
I have included the most current copy of the state statutes applicable to this issue. Please keep in mind that while a majority of the law states the tenants is responsible, again this is true BUT when the tenant is deceased it then becomes the deceased’s estate. The estate process can take months to a year. During that time the landlord has a damaged property and has the liability of keeping other tenants, including their employees safe. This is the key fact which turns the liability from the deceases estate to the responsibility of the landlord.
The last piece of the puzzle I want to go over is who can the landlord have clean up the mess. The answer to this I will refer to OSHA of which I have extensive knowledge. OSHA requires employers to provide specific training and rules to be followed in order for an employee to be mandated to cleanup blood or any other body fluids. Without these trainings and other requirements it is a violation of OSHA for any employer to force an employee to cleanup any bodily fluids. In the eyes of OSHA a tenant is essentially an employee of the landlord. The landlord owes the tenants the same responsibilities that it woes actual employees. Hiring an independent contractor does not waive this obligation of a landlord to a tenants. A landlord must make sure any contractor they hire are also properly certified and trained. Fines for violations of this OSHA law can incur up to a $70,000 fine per incident.
Some of these requirements include, but are not limited to, blood borne pathogen training, respiratory protection training 1910.134, hazcom (chemicals 1910.1200) training and documentation. The employer must provide ALL PPE (1910.132) at no cost to the employee, and offer Hepatitis vaccinations at no cost to the employee.
To Summarize Who’s Responsible for Biohazard Cleanup, Landlord or the Family?
- An incident in a home has a burden of the tenants to provide the means to clean up the issues
- This burden when a death is involved shift to the estate
- The landlord also has an obligation to promptly remedy the situation to protect other tenants, employers and future tenants making the process of waiting and hoping the estate will take care of the issues a problem without violating the law to protect the other tenants and employees.
- Without proper training and procedures in place it is illegal to have people cleanup after a biohazard.
- The structure damages are covered under the landlords insurance policy.
504B.161 COVENANTS OF LANDLORD OR LICENSOR. §Subdivision 1.Requirements. (a) In every lease or license of residential premises, the landlord or licensor covenants:
(1) that the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties;
(2) to keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, except when the disrepair has been caused by the willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct of the tenant or licensee or a person under the direction or control of the tenant or licensee;
(3) to make the premises reasonably energy efficient by installing weatherstripping, caulking, storm windows, and storm doors when any such measure will result in energy procurement cost savings, based on current and projected average residential energy costs in Minnesota, that will exceed the cost of implementing that measure, including interest, amortized over the ten-year period following the incurring of the cost; and
(4) to maintain the premises in compliance with the applicable health and safety laws of the state, and of the local units of government where the premises are located during the term of the lease or license, except when violation of the health and safety laws has been caused by the willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct of the tenant or licensee or a person under the direction or control of the tenant or licensee. (b) The parties to a lease or license of residential premises may not waive or modify the covenants imposed by this section.
Subd. 2.Tenant maintenance. The landlord or licensor may agree with the tenant or licensee that the tenant or licensee is to perform specified repairs or maintenance, but only if the agreement is supported by adequate consideration and set forth in a conspicuous writing. No such agreement, however, may waive the provisions of subdivision 1 or relieve the landlord or licensor of the duty to maintain common areas of the premises.
Subd. 3.Liberal construction. This section shall be liberally construed, and the opportunity to inspect the premises before concluding a lease or license shall not defeat the covenants established in this section.
Subd. 4.Covenants are in addition. The covenants contained in this section are in addition to any covenants or conditions imposed by law or ordinance or by the terms of the lease or license.
Subd. 5.Injury to third parties. Nothing in this section shall be construed to alter the liability of the landlord or licensor of residential premises for injury to third parties.
Subd. 6.Application. The provisions of this section apply only to leases or licenses of residential premises concluded or renewed on or after June 15, 1971. For the purposes of this section, estates at will shall be deemed to be renewed at the commencement of each rental period.