The responsibility of cleaning up after the tragedy of a death and making a property safe to inhabit lies with the landlord or manager of the building, not, as is commonly believed, the emergency services.
An unattended death is, to put it simply, when someone dies alone and their body remains undiscovered for days, weeks or even months. Depending on how long, it will possibly have undergone various levels of decomposition. As a result, an unattended death clean up service – using specialist tools and equipment as well as industrial chemicals – will be required to identify and remove any biohazards.
When cleaning biohazardous materials it’s important to know the health risks associated with exposure to human blood. A suicide may also be considered an unattended death if the body has remained undiscovered for a long time.
As a landlord, if an unattended death occurs on your property you will not only be faced with a distressing situation but also the dangers inherent from exposure to biological pathogens.
Even if you discover a recent death, under no circumstances should you do anything until the police have been called and the scene investigated.
The correct personal protective equipment (PPE) is required in situations like this or you may be at risk of bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV.
Reporting the death may sound like an obvious thing to do but in such terrible circumstances your initial reaction might be to rush in and disturb the scene before the police arrive. Instead, dial 999 immediately and wait for the emergency services to attend. An unattended death should always be treated as a potential crime scene.
As a landlord, you may also be responsible for reporting the death to the tenant’s relatives, or someone they have named as a close contact. You need to get in touch with this person, because they will probably be the ones who need to sort out the deceased person’s possessions.
Once the body has been removed from the property you need to make sure that it is made secure. You should change the locks because if anything goes missing it will be your responsibility. By doing this you’ll ensure that friends and family who may have keys don’t have access.
If the tenancy has not expired, then a landlord does not have the automatic right to reclaim the property unless they have been granted permission from the tenant’s Personal Representatives.
To formally end the tenancy, it is necessary to serve notice on the Personal Representatives, and then, if they don’t agree to give up possession, or if there is someone else living at the property, obtain a possession order through the courts.
Once the police have issued confirmation that they’ve finished their investigations, they will leave the unattended death clean up for you to deal with. This will require specialist protective gear and equipment, so unless you have experience of a crime scene clean up it is best you leave it to professionals.
Attempting this yourself is potentially perilous and you risk falling seriously ill if you attempt to do it without the proper knowledge.
Your best bet is to engage a crime scene cleaning company to do the job. It will understand what is required, and also be able to do it in a safe and efficient way. The cleaning process should be done as quickly as possible to minimise the risk of contamination.