The Moneyist: My brother-in-law died, leaving his house in a mess. His landlord wants me to repaint and replace the carpet. What should we do?

Dear Quentin,

My brother-in-law recently died, and was without a will. With no children or spouse, it became his sister’s responsibility to manage his estate. I handle all of her affairs as power of attorney as she has a disability. He lived in Cody, Wyo., and I live in Georgia.

I recently received notice from his landlord that she wants his personal items out of the house as quickly as possible so she can sell the house. He has lived there for over 20 years, and was not the most organized person. The house is quite a mess. I have arranged for cleaning and the removal of all his personal belongings, and will continue to pay the rent until it is completed.

My problem now is that she wants me to completely pay for a complete refresh of the house with removal of any smoke or mildew residue, prime and paint the entire interior, and replace all of the carpeting. He had paid a damage deposit of $500 when he rented the house, and the owner has not done anything for the house since he moved in.  

It’s a one-bedroom small place. I really don’t see how it is my responsibility to completely fix up the house for sale. 

What do you think?

Trying to do the Right Thing

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Dear Trying,

You’re already doing the right thing by moving his belongings out by the end of the next rental cycle. You’re helping a friend, and putting in a lot of time to resolve this situation, and making it as seamless as possible for your friend and the landlord. Your brother-in-law died — he did not break his lease (assuming there was a lease). Asking you to pay to fluff and buff the house so she can sell it is beyond your realm of responsibility and any reasonable expectations. 

Both landlord and tenant had a responsibility to maintain the house over the last 20 years. Painting and carpeting would naturally need to be replaced over that period. According to the law in Wyoming: “A landlord must keep the rental unit in reasonable repair and fit for human habitation, including the maintenance of all electrical, plumbing and heating systems. A warranty of habitability cannot be waived or modified by the parties to the lease agreement.”

Among tenants’ obligations: “Tenants must use all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances in the premises in a reasonable manner. Tenants must keep that part of the premises that the tenant occupies and uses as clean and safe as the condition of the premises permits. Tenants must remove all property and garbage at the end of the tenancy.”

This landlord already saved money by not touching this house in 20 years, by not giving it as much as a lick of paint. By all means, she should keep the security deposit for damage/upkeep over this period, but it’s a bit rich to ask you to prepare the house for sale. It would not make financial sense to sue your brother-in-law’s estate, and if she did pursue such an action she would have to answer uncomfortable questions about her role as an absentee landlord. 

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