Widower objects to paying late wife's rent for a month after her death

Scotty Hamilton knew his wife was going to die. 

At age 82, Darlene Hamilton was battling Alzheimer's disease and cancer. By the end of her life, she was receiving palliative care in a private seniors' residence in west Edmonton.

Her husband made the decision to keep her in familiar surroundings rather than move her to a hospice. 

Darlene's suite in the secure memory unit in Touchmark at Wedgewood cost $7,250 a month including meals. Scotty also pays for his own apartment in the same facility. 

"She passed away Oct. 19 and it was expected," Scotty Hamilton said. 

What he didn't expect was being told he'd have to keep paying her rent for another 30 days. 

"Which astounded me," he said. "And they said, 'Well, it's in the contract.'"

Hamilton said the contract does indeed stipulate that rent will cease 30 days after the date of death. But he said he wasn't aware of that clause until he had to deal with his wife's death.

"I did ask one of the staff members if anybody had been able to accurately been able to predict the date of death 30 days in advance and I was told they weren't able to. Surprise, surprise," he said.

Trevor Wilson/CBC

He asked the Touchmark executive director if he would be prepared to waive the requirement, because he had already cleaned out his wife's suite.

"Whether [he] had the authority to waive it or not, I don't know But he chose not to," Hamilton said. "It's the principle. I just felt it was a little unfair, given what I've paid over the last 31 months." 

A day after CBC News contacted the Touchmark executive director for comment, the company reversed its original stance and credited the money back to Hamilton.

Executive director Thomas Trevethan cited a communications breakdown as the reason for the initial response given to Hamilton.

"We are addressing that breakdown in communication now and adjusting our internal processes so this doesn't happen again," Trevethan wrote. 

Hamilton said he's accepted the company's explanation, but feels the charge should never have happened in the first place. 

'It can certainly be a shock'

According to CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, the decision to charge 30 days' rent after death is common across the country.

"Many families aren't aware of these clauses that are contained in the contracts, so when the time comes that they need to confront it, it can certainly be a shock," CARP spokesperson Marissa Lennox told CBC News. 

She said CARP receives a lot of phone calls on the issue, and she can see an upside and downside to the 30-day clause. 

"Some families can be relieved that they have a bit of time to be able to move out the belongings of an individual who's died," Lennox said. "On the other hand, it can come as a real shock to many families because we know that the cost of retirement care is so expensive."

She applauded Touchmark for reversing the charge. 

Submitted by Scotty Hamilton

A law professor at the University of Calgary believes the provincial government should step in to regulate contracts more closely. 

"If these kinds of things are happening, then the government should do more in the Nursing Homes Act to make sure they don't," Lorian Hardcastle said.

"Perhaps legally in the contract she had an obligation to give them that notice. But at least from an ethical perspective, it's reasonable to assume that her death is notice."