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When a Neighbor Dies Unattended, How Should the Building Handle It?

In situations where people have died and their estate is in court, fixing a problem in their former apartment is legally complex.

By Jill Terreri Ramos

Jan. 27, 2024

Q: Six months ago, while I was out of town, there were two unattended deaths in my 60-unit co-op building in Brooklyn. The bodies were eventually discovered and removed. My apartment is above the unit where this occurred, and I returned to flies and a smelly apartment. Two months later, the co-op board got a court order allowing it to break the NYPD seal and remove the apartment’s contents. But the smell remains, and no work is planned. The odor is weaker now, but persistent, especially when the heat comes on. It’s too cold to keep the windows open. I’m running air purifiers, but have had to abandon one room and all the closets. My household insurance won’t help, because there is no physical damage. What recourse do I have?

A: Your situation is unfortunate, and is also legally complex. In typical cases where a neighbor causes unwanted odors, you would approach the co-op board and make a claim against the neighbor, depending upon the terms in your co-op’s governing documents.


You can also start a court action to compel the co-op board to clean, but that would be a last resort. “You have a really good claim under the warranty of habitability, because you have the right to live free of smells,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. “That is your right under New York law.”

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