MILWAUKEE — When Deana Barber got a hold of a letter from her dad's property manager, she couldn't believe what she was reading. Even though he died, he still had to pay rent.
Her father, Robert, is a Vietnam War veteran. He died in his sleep inside his Milwaukee apartment days before Christmas.
Deana says her dad's property manager, BG Lein Management, sent her father a letter after he passed away. It stated since he "vacated the property" they were "withholding the entire security deposit" and that he's responsible for rent through January.
Deana tells TMJ4 News when she called the company, a representative explained her dad broke his lease by dying.
"Just like, my mind is just blown like I don't know what else to say about that honestly," Deana said.
Emergency responders damaged Robert's door to get into his unit, but Deana tells us she spent days doing a deep clean of the apartment. She returned all of the keys and the garage door opener.
"I said 'You guys really do that to people?' And she just kept repeating, 'It's Wisconsin state law, it's Wisconsin state law,'" Deana said.
According to state law, if a tenant dies, his or her lease is terminated, either "60 days after the landlord receives notice..." or "the expiration of the term of the rental agreement." whichever comes first.
BG Lein sent TMJ4 News the following statement:
"It's difficult to answer this request due to the various details and our general policy of not sharing tenant information. We'll try to address information more generally as it applies to a number of tenant cases so others may understand where we are coming from.
We are sorry that the family is having to deal with this loss. Our team tries to be as supportive as possible with our tenants and their families, especially throughout this very difficult year. Too many have faced terrible medical issues, death, and financial hardship. We try to be respectful and flexible throughout challenging communication with family members. The team puts extra effort into the coordination of inspections of the unit. We do our best to attempt to relieve pressure as families try to go through personal items, for example. And in some cases, family members are not close by and our staff has more regular contact with an individual that is living alone.
Our standard practice is to be reasonable and meet tenants in the middle whenever possible, while also following the law and being consistent so everyone feels we are fair. This includes reducing or waiving some of the outstanding charges in accounts (late fees, small rent balances, etc.), zeroing out charges related to general cleaning, carpet cleaning, typical costs for light repairs to drywall or replacement of blinds for example, or keeping an apartment off-market for multiple weeks.
The language in our standard form letters may strike an unsympathetic tone, particularly in difficult situations, however, we use standard content across the board to ensure consistency and adherence to state law. The law requires us to list details and include supporting documentation and also respond in a certain time frame. Our staff tries to walk people through these details over the phone so they understand the letters we send out and their relation to the lease. We don't surprise people. If a tenant owes money, that is clear. If there is light, moderate, or severe cleaning or repairs, this is clear.
When tenancy ends in these difficult situations we work with families, friends, and power of attorneys throughout the challenges of cleaning out items and the transition to closing out lease terms. We do our best to ease the pain of that process and absorb some costs to help make that transition a little easier.
A link to the WI State Legislature statute 704.165 https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/704/165
BG Lein Management
Deana says that a security deposit would have helped pay for her dad's funeral costs. She says, her father, who served our country, deserved better.
"Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should," Deana said.