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Strata council had right to clear items from dead man's foul-smelling townhome: B.C. tribunal ruling

Scales of justice. (Shutterstock) Scales of justice. (Shutterstock)
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The brother of a deceased B.C. property owner says the building’s strata council was wrong to clear out his brother’s townhome after he died.

Ross Graham, who is the executor of his deceased brother’s estate, filed a complaint with the B.C. Civil Resolutions Tribunal alleging that $40,000 worth of items were removed, without permission, from his brother’s apartment after his death.

But the strata council argued that the smell of the dead man’s decomposing body was seeping into other units and it had no choice but to hire a cleanup crew right away, a position the tribunal ultimately agreed with.

And, the well-reputed cleanup company said nothing left in the apartment had value anyway, because it had absorbed foul odours from the decomposing body.

Graham’s brother died in his home ”sometime before Aug. 9, 2020,” and his body was later found during an RCMP safety check at a neighbour’s request. But in the days after his body was found, the strata council hired a contractor, Genesis Restorations, which executed a “decomposition cleanup.”

“(The surviving brother) Mr. Graham says that Genesis removed and disposed of valuable belongings, including an outboard boat motor, a wine collection, and an iPhone … (and) says the strata was not entitled to have its contractor remove personal property,” reads a Jan. 6 decision from the BCCRT.

Graham also accused the restoration company of stealing items from the unit, which the company’s owner denied. The tribunal ruled that such allegations of fraud were “speculative” and Graham didn’t have adequate evidence.

Graham claimed that instead of clearing out the apartment, strata should have “secured the strata lot and its contents.” As a result, he wanted strata to pay him for a $40,000 devaluation of the estate.

But the strata said the surviving brother’s claim should be dismissed because it had to clear out the apartment due to complaints from neighbours.

A statement from Graham Dick, owner of Genesis, submitted to the tribunal said that the deceased man’s body had been decomposing in the unit for more than two weeks, during the summer, without air conditioning and with the heat on.

According to strata, other owners complained about “contamination and odours” coming from the unit and it “had to take steps to enforce its bylaws against nuisance and hazard.”

It hired Genesis to “purify the air with machines, clean carpets and surfaces, and remove and dispose of flooring and contaminated contents,” reads the ruling.

The strata says the company sorted through the items in the unit to determine which were “non-restorable,” therefore it’s not liable for those actions.

In his job report to strata, Dick said that everything in the apartment would need to be thrown out because it had absorbed odours from the decomposing body.

“Everything had been ‘soaking’ in the increasing odour of decomposition for 3-4 weeks,” it reads.

“As a body decomposes, the fluids evaporate and then redistribute onto all surfaces (like smoke), coating the surfaces of everything and as the temperature rises … molecular absorption…takes place. Plastics and electronics are especially susceptible to this and will continue to off gas odours at warmer temperatures for months or years.”

The civil resolution tribunal ruled in favour of the strata, finding it had taken adequate steps to try and find a next of kin before going ahead with clearing out the apartment, and that it was under a time crunch to take action.

According to Dick, the remediation work “needed to be completed without further delay as the odour was getting stronger and more unbearable day by day” and “there was severe odour saturation into all contents, furniture, paint, and floors,” and “flies and maggots throughout the main floor.”

In her ruling, tribunal member and vice chair Kate Campbell wrote that Graham “has not proven it was unreasonable or negligent for the strata to permit Genesis to dispose of (his brother’s) contents … (nor has he) proved what items were in (the unit) or their monetary value.” 

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