LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I bought a house recently that had a natural death occur in it several years back. I am now listing it for rent. The death was not violent – do I need to disclose it to potential renters? What sort of recourse could occur if a neighbor says something to my tenant?
A. There are many different types of disclosures that you may want to give to new tenants – some are required by law, others are not. In your example, disclosing a natural death, isn’t something required but it would be a good idea to provide the information. In Hawaii especially, certain individuals have a strong aversion to living in a home where a death has occurred. Even during the course of a sale, I find that question coming up quite often.
Normally a disclosure such as this can be given once a potential tenant shows an interest in renting the property prior to signing a contract.
This way the tenant is given the opportunity to view the property – allowing them to make a decision once they have all the facts.
On the other hand, if the disclosure isn’t made prior to signing a contract, and a few days or weeks later a neighbor happens to mention that a death occurred, you may have a problem on your hands. If the tenant isn’t comfortable with this information, they could come back to you requesting to be released from their contract or to be compensated in some other way – possibly monetarily. It just seems to be a better practice to disclose everything up front so nothing can come back to you later.
If you are using the Hawaii Association of Realtors Rental Agreement many disclosures are identifi ed in the contract. A Lead-Based Paint disclosure is required to be given if the property is built prior to 1978 and it must identify to the tenant in writing whether the owner has any knowledge of lead based paint or lead-based hazards at the property or if they have any reports of such. In addition to the disclosure, the Lead-Based Paint Pamphlet – put out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must be given.
Other items that are discussed in the rental contract are asbestos and mold disclosures. If the owner is aware of asbestos or mold (or had mitigation of these conditions in the past) then this should be disclosed to the tenant. The tenant should be aware that asbestos materials have been used in certain ceiling and fl ooring products prior to 1979 and it could be hazardous to one’s health. Similarly, mold is also a substance that can cause health issues.
If a landlord learns there are dangerous levels of asbestos in the rental property, the landlord has the duty to take reasonable steps to assure tenants aren’t harmed.
Although there are no laws requiring a landlord to disclose asbestos in a unit, they do need to provide a habitable environment.
If someone has health issues that make them particularly susceptible to asbestos or mold, then they should do their due diligence prior to moving into a unit. Regarding asbestos, possibly limiting their search to units built in 1979 or later would be prudent; regarding mold, inquiring as to previous fl ooding or leaking in the unit would be advisable. The owner has no obligation to do testing as a condition for a tenant taking occupancy.
Other situations that you would want to disclose are break-ins to the property, identifying what corrective actions were taken to lessen the chance of this happening again, and sex offenders in the area, if you actually have knowledge of this – otherwise the tenant can go on-line and fi nd that information for themselves. If a home had been used for methamphetamine production, you would defi nitely want to disclose that in the event there is still any residue remaining that could affect the health of the tenants.
So when deciding whether it’s better to disclose or not – I would suggest that the more information you provide up front, the fewer issues you will have down the line.