Legal Sidenote

Sidenote: Their apartment was sealed upon death

Sidenote is a collection of real-life events that I have personally experienced or received as second-hand accounts from colleagues. They address different scenarios that are relevant to the blog and explore various points of funeral law. Think of them as the answers to short essay exam questions.

Naturally, any identifying information has been removed.

There are about 3 million units of housing in New York City, 900,000 just in Manhattan alone, and, according to a 2009 poll in the NY Daily News, half of those Manhattan residents live alone. Pair that with a death rate of one person every nine minutes, and it isn’t exactly surprising when anxious families call looking for answers on how to access their loved one’s police-sealed apartment. In fact, we had two of those very cases just last week!

What is the purpose of sealing an apartment? Why does it happen?

In New York, when a tenant dies during the term of his or her lease, the lease passes to the estate through its’ expiration (i.e. the term of the lease). In most cases, the landlord does not have the right to simply take back possession of the apartment. So, once the police finish their investigation, they will literally seal the entrance to the apartment with police tape and a neon green 8.5×11 sticker. This is done to protect the deceased’s property from opportunistic randos (and landlords), and, in more nefarious cases, preserve any evidence. You definitely wouldn’t want that one neighbor from 14B browsing grandma’s apartment while getting stains on her best house dress, and neither do the cops.

Unfortunately, the process of getting in is generally pretty unpleasant and fraught with confusion for families (biological, chosen, or otherwise) who have just as many legitimate reasons to want in as the police have for wanting them out. The building manager will say you have to get access from the police and the police will tell you to go to Surrogate’s Court.

So, how do you do it?

The fastest method is to stop at the police precinct that sealed the apartment and procure a “Property Clerk Invoice.” Bring the invoice, a death certificate (produced by the funeral home), and a copy of a paid funeral bill to the Surrogate’s Court. If the deceased has a Will, you should also bring that with you. If you aren’t sure, then don’t sweat it.

  • Note that in some instances, depending on the circumstances surrounding the deceased’s passing, the medical examiner may be issuing the certificate. If a certificate is not yet available, the examiner’s office can provide a “Letter of Death,” which certifies the passing in lieu of a certified death certificate.
  • Double note, if you are not the “funeral creditor” (the person who paid for the funeral), but are still the next-of-kin, you will also need a notarized letter from the payer stating that you are authorized to receive police property on behalf of the payer.

The Surrogate’s Court, upon examining your paperwork, will provide you with a “Certificate of Voluntary Administration,” “Letters of Administration,” OR “Letters Testamentary.” Once the Order is issued, call the police precinct holding the keys to the apartment. The police will either tell you to meet them at the apartment or to come to the precinct to be escorted to the apartment.

Aaaaaand that’s how you do it! I hope this is the most helpful information that you’ll never have to use. If you have any questions related to this process, leave them in the comments below or send me a private message.

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