Eildon Housing Association has defended its policy of granting bereaved families seven rent-free days to clear homes and return keys following the death of a tenant.
The social landlord was responding to criticism this from West Linton housewife Caroline Grahame after her father, Dave McEwen, died in hospital on Saturday, July 15, due to complications following back surgery.
His funeral was due to take place at the Borders Crematorium at Melrose yesterday.
The 71-year-old, a retired businessman suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had been a tenant at the Selkirk-based association’s Oakwood Park sheltered housing complex in Galashiels for the past two years.
“I did nothing but cry for two days after the shock of dad’s death, and on the Monday, having had no sleep, I reluctantly went to his flat to look for his insurance documents,” said Mrs Graham.
“The staff at Oakwood are lovely, and one of them told me to take my time in the flat as she thought we would have a few weeks to get things sorted.
“She returned half an hour later and apologetically told me she had made a mistake and we only had one week from day of death to clear the flat and return the keys.
“I was told we were not being put out, but if we kept the keys longer than a week, we would have to pay £14.50 a day until we were finished.
“I was also told that Eildon would be advertising the vacancy from this Monday – two days before his cremation.
“We’d arranged to hold a wee memorial service for him in the Oakwood lounge before the funeral, and I had visions of people viewing his flat with the hearse outside.
“To my mind, Eildon’s policy is wrong. I understand it is a business which must make money, but it would not bankrupt them to allow a family overwhelmed with grief to at least lay their loved ones to rest before asking them to rip their homes apart.
“I believe families should be given at least couple of weeks after a death to let them come to terms with their loss.”
Amanda Miller, Eildon’s director of housing and care services, told the Southern: “A tenancy legally ends with the death of the tenant, and generally keys would be expected to be returned within one week.
“Our local staff have been advising Mrs Graham on arrangements should the family require more than seven days.
“This includes practical advice on clearing out the property as well as confirmation of the £14.50 daily charge.
“Normally, when a tenancy ends, outgoing tenants will provide us with four weeks’ notice. This is usually sufficient time to advertise the vacancy, as well as carry out repair works needed before a new tenant can move in.
“Clearly, when a tenant passes we do not have the same period as the tenancy legally ends on the same day the tenant dies.
“We make assumptions around how many tenancies will change in a year and factor assumptions about the level of rent-free periods in the same year. To increase this would impact on our costs and, ultimately, on the rents of all our tenants.
“We have adopted the policy as we believe it offers a balance between being sensitive about the recent loss of a family and meeting our needs to fund ongoing costs and services relating to the property, solely funded through rent charges.
“On the matter of advertising 3 Oakwood Park, I have advised Mrs Graham this will be held back until after her father’s funeral on the week commencing July 31.”
Mrs Graham said she appreciated the delay in advertising the vacant flat and that the family had started paying the £14.50 charge from Monday of this week.
“This is not about money but about a policy which is insensitive,” she told us. “No one should have to go through a loved one’s belongings or clear their homes before they have laid them to rest.”