(WSVN) - Her 21-year-old daughter was found dead in her apartment, and before the family could even hold services, the landlord emptied the unit and threw everything in a landfill. Certainly devastating, but is it legal to do that to a grieving family? It’s why they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

It’s tough to hear, and nearly impossible to endure.

Michelle Ellis: “Officers started to come downstairs and just started shaking their heads.”

Michelle had gotten a call telling her to rush to her daughter Sarah’s apartment. She arrived to find she was dead.

Michelle Ellis: “Yes, we went in, and she was cold, and I laid next to her and just screamed and cried and touched her.”

That was on a Tuesday. Later that week, Michelle came back to sort through her daughter’s belongings.

Michelle Ellis: “Her clothes were there, her smell was on her clothes, and that was very, very important to me. I wanted to take her clothes.”

Since the rent was paid for the month of March, Michelle didn’t start taking things out, just one box with some mementos.

Michelle Ellis: “I’m in my daughter’s apartment thinking, ‘How am I going to keep parts of her with me?'”

Seven days after Sarah’s death, the Del Rio property manager changed the locks on the apartment. Michelle was told, “Don’t worry.”

Michelle Ellis: “We were told that we would be able to come back and make an appointment and make preparations to gather her things.”

But as the family planned services for Sarah, little did they know what the property manager had planned for the next day.

Michelle Ellis: “That she hired a junk removal to come to the apartment, picked up all of our daughter’s belongings, her bagged-up clothes and everything, and brought them to the dump.”

That’s right: a junk removal company cleared out the apartment and left it empty.

The company told the family they dumped everything in a landfill but claimed they didn’t remember where.

Michelle Ellis: “I started crying. I started screaming because I was so emotionally distraught, and I felt like this person was ripping away from me the last connection that I had to my child.”

On March 2, Michelle’s daughter died.

On March 10, all her belongings were removed and dumped in a landfill.

A month later, Michelle still can’t believe it.

Michelle Ellis: “It is unethical, immoral to treat someone who is suffering like that, and that is horrendous.”

It’s horrible for any parent to endure, Howard, but is it legal for a landlord to trash everything?

Howard Finkelstein: “No, it’s not legal, and the reason: The rent is paid up. Also, the landlord has to notify the next of kin and by law has to hold the property for at least 60 days from the date of death. You could sue and win, but all you get is three months’ rent or the value of Sarah’s property, whichever is larger.”

We tried to contact the property manager to find out why she did this. She didn’t respond to our emails or calls.

The attorney for the owner of Del Rio Apartments wrote, “We believe that we accommodated the family to the fullest extent possible, and maintain we complied with the law. After her death, parents purporting to be hers entered the unit to take what possessions they wanted and instructed the landlord agent to discard everything else. The landlord agent complied.”

The family says that’s not true. They never said to discard Sarah’s clothes and furniture.

The attorney did tell us the property manager no longer runs the complex, that she quit.

Michelle Ellis: “She was a good soul.”

Michelle will never get her daughter’s belongings back, but she does have something no one can destroy: her precious memories.

Michelle Ellis: “She wanted to be an interior designer and had a lot of friends. A lot of people loved her. She was a beautiful person.”

You never know what will happen from one day to the next. Hug the people you love every day.

Now, in most cases, when someone passes away, the landlord and the family work things out. But not for Sarah’s family. Just sad in so many ways.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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