When an occupant of a NYC apartment dies and no relative claims the body or the death occurred under suspicious circumstances, the New York City Police Department comes in to seal the apartment. This seal shows that NYC Police has investigated or is currently investigating the cause of the occupant’s death. It is against the law tamper with or break this police seal.
This seal can present different problems, depending on whether the deceased was a tenant or an owner.
If deceased was a tenant:
The property owner, in this case, would like to acquire back possession of his NYC Police sealed apartment at the soonest possible time in order to rent it out again. The property owner needs to obtain a surrender from an authorized representative of the estate.
If the deceased tenant had a will and the will is petitioned for probate, an executor will be appointed who will then surrender the NYC Police sealed apartment to the property owner. If the deceased tenant had no will, certain family members can be appointed as administrator. If there is no executor or administrator, the property owner or landlord, as creditor, can petition the Surrogate’s Court to appoint a Public Administrator to the Estate in order to receive a surrender of the NYC Police sealed apartment.
But what if the property owner cannot wait for the appointment of an executor or administrator and needs to gain access to his property immediately in order to fix a leak, remove trash, or for any other reason? The property owner can file a suit against the New York City Police Department with the Supreme Court, seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. Because he has filed suit for a temporary restraining order, it will immediately be calendared for hearing by the Supreme Court due to the need for immediate attention.
If deceased was the owner:
If the deceased owner was living alone and NYC police sealed the apartment, there are two scenarios, depending on whether one believes the deceased left a will or not. If one believes the deceased left a will, the next of kin or their authorized representative can file a petition to unseal the residence and examine the NYC Police sealed apartment.
Once the Surrogate Court issues the order granting the petition, the next of kin can coordinate with the police precinct holding the apartment keys.
NYC police will be present when the sealed apartment is opened and a search is conducted to find the will and insurance policies. After the search, the police seals back the apartment.
If a will is found, one can proceed to probate the will, and an executor (if named in the will) is appointed. If, on the other hand, one believes that the deceased did not leave a will, the next of kin can skip the petition to unseal and just proceed with the petition for the issuance of letters of administration. Access to the apartment can be gained again only when an executor or administrator has been appointed and authorized to gather and distribute the decedent’s assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.
If the deceased owner was living with someone (for example, a sibling, another family member, or a friend) and this person has no tenancy or ownership rights to remain in the residence, the executor or administrator can petition either the Surrogate’s Court or landlord-tenant court to obtain an order of eviction to get possession of the apartment from the individual wrongfully occupying estate property.