CHA policy: access to an apartment following the death of a tenant

What happens when a resident passes away suddenly or is transferred to a nursing home or assisted living? What happens to the person's property after they no longer occupy the apartment?

Can a friend or relative of the former tenant enter the apartment and save or remove their loved one's belongings? If you live in public housing or a large apartment building, the manager is likely to say — NO. Not unless you have certain documents from Probate Court giving you the exclusive right to enter and remove things.

In fact, as soon as management is aware that the tenant is no longer there, they will go and change the locks. In case of death, they will only let you in under supervision to take a few articles of clothing for use in funeral arrangements.

The reason for the rule is that management has no idea who might have conflicting rights to take care of the things their loved one may leave behind. If Uncle Joe should take stuff out of the apartment, what happens when Aunt Mary shows up and says, what happened to all that stuff? The owner or manager can then be sued. That's why they have these seemingly heartless rules.

Yes, you can go to Probate Court and get a document that empowers you to get in to the apartment. But it takes a minimum of 30 days to process and it will cost you around $300.00. Even if you can afford it, by the time you get the document, management may have already removed everything.

This is an issue that comes up again and again. Maybe it could be addressed through some kind of legislative reform. One idea would be to ask every person moving in or recertifying to name a person who would have authority to enter and remove belongings. That person could be routinely registered with the Probate Court and management. It shouldn't be a huge change since very resident is already required to name a person to be contacted in case of emergency. 

To understand the current policy, you can click here to read the Cambridge Housing Authority's  procedures and access agreement form for accessing the apartment of a deceased tenant.