The region’s top landlord for seniors has a policy of not letting people out of their leases when they die, unlike other landlords, who said they support the effort to add a state law condemning the practice.
Multiple families contacted The Post-Star to describe what happened when a family member died while renting from local developer Richard Schermerhorn. He owns about 40% of the senior living apartments in Warren County, and also runs many in Saratoga and Washington counties. He did not respond to messages left seeking comment.
They were all told that their family member had broken the lease by dying, and the estate would be billed for the remainder of the lease. In addition, they were told their family member had forfeited the security deposit because the lease was broken, and therefore the deposit would not be used to cover the cost of any damages to the apartment. Families were given a standard packet of information on the issue, including a list of charges for each part of the apartment not cleaned acceptably.
The estates are billed — beyond the security deposit — for each item that isn’t cleaned. A drawer left unwashed is $50. The carpets must be professionally cleaned, with a receipt from the cleaner as proof.
One family was charged $1,000 for not cleaning items to Schermerhorn’s standard.
Another family was told to pay $13,000 for a full year’s lease when tenant Robert Comiskey died one week before his new lease began. He had already signed the next year’s lease.
The family didn’t have $13,000, said daughter Sue Moskov.
“We were in shock,” she said. “We were just so rattled. My father was a veteran. He would have been mortified.”
Her father’s estate attorney tried to negotiate, offering one month’s rent.
The family cleaned the apartment right away. But Schermerhorn Real Estate Holdings still tried to take out the monthly rent from Comiskey’s bank account for two months.
“Glens Falls National made them put it back in,” she said. “They got one month and the security deposit.”
Still, that was $2,000. Comiskey left enough money in his estate to cover his funeral and leave “a little” for his two daughters, but $2,000 was a meaningful amount of money for the family.
“It’s not like we’re rich,” Moskov said. “And a lot of people, if they have an estate, usually it’s just enough to bury them.”
She argued that Schermerhorn should not keep the security deposit or charge future rent after the family cleans an apartment so it can be rented again.
“It was just shocking that someone who has that much money would do that,” she said. “It’s so greedy.”
Not common practice
Schermerhorn’s practice is not common in the Glens Falls area.
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Three other landlords said, when a tenant dies, they let the family out of the lease immediately.
“Because that’s the reasonable thing to do,” said Colonial Gardens office manager Lynn Giordano. “That’s the way it should be.”
In her 14 years as the office manager there, Colonial Gardens has never tried to collect additional rent when a tenant died, she said.
“We don’t sue estates. Never have,” she said.
Families who had a loved one die at a Schermerhorn apartment said the apartments were quickly filled by new tenants, but Schermerhorn was still demanding they pay the entire lease.
Scott Nichols died after a short illness on July 5, 2017. His lease was up the following February. But his family had the apartment cleaned out by the end of the month and it was rented again in August, said daughter Lisa Gereau.
Still, as soon as Nichols died, Schermerhorn employees told Gereau she had to pay his rent.
“My attorney told me to immediately clean out his bank account, because apparently they put a lien on their bank account,” she said.
So she emptied his account and refused to pay.
She also sent her house cleaner to make sure the apartment was clean.
“My dad left his apartment spotless. He lived in it spotless,” she said. “It only took us a few days to clean it out. There was no reason I shouldn’t get the deposit back.”
It was a bit over $900, she said. She never got it.
“For me, it’s a small amount of money. It’s just the principle. You can bury your loved one with $3,000,” she said, referring to the larger amounts paid by others who also paid additional months’ rent.
Her father left her a binder, showing exactly what to do to settle his estate after he died. He was proud of his planning and organization. But he never knew he would owe the rest of his lease, she said.
“He would have been livid,” she said.
Moskov said her father never realized that, either.
“If he knew that would’ve happened, he would never have rented from them,” she said. “I understand when people skip out on the rent, but he died. To say he broke the lease? He died!”