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Davis, California

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Watts Legal?

Question: Who owns my Gmail account after I die? And who can access my Gmail account after I die? There’s some stuff in there I’d prefer my family can’t read, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to.
— David M., Davis, Calif.


Nobody owns it. You yourself don’t even own it. You own the intellectual property rights in the content in your accounts (and those rights would pass to your heirs, just like any other property rights), but your use of Gmail, Yahoo! or any other web-based email service is subject to a contract you signed when you opened your account. Remember scrolling through those “terms of service” and then clicking on a box that said “Dude, I totally read this?” (I’m paraphrasing here). Those terms of service still apply.

And those terms don’t specifically explain what happens to your account after you die. But they do say that Google can “suspend or stop a service” like Gmail at any time. They also say Google can change the terms at any time, and could terminate your service for violating any Google policies. One of those policies bans you from transferring your account to another person — including your next of kin.

Although Google’s terms of service seem to ban transferring your account, Google does allow a deceased person’s next-of-kin to download the contents of their Gmail inbox. After you die, your family could get an order from a judge commanding Google to open up the account. Or a family member could just print out and send a copy of the family member’s driver license, a print-out of an email from you (to prove you actually talked to each other using the Gmail account), a death certificate and “proof of authority under local law that [the family member] is the lawful representative of the deceased or his or her estate.” Google will either send the contents of the inbox on a CD or close the account entirely, depending on the request.

Question: We have a roommate who is moving out at the end of the lease and is being profoundly difficult with respect to allowing us to see the bedroom so we can get a new roommate. They requested 24 hours notice, which we try to accommodate, but given our schedules, it is often difficult. The roommate says that if we don’t give them 24 hours notice, or if they don’t consent, that their rights are being violated. However, some laws I’ve read suggest that 24 hours is a reasonable amount of notice and that they can’t refuse to allow us to see the room. What are their rights? What are ours? What options do we have for getting a new roommate for the new lease year? We talked to our landlord, who agrees the tenant is being unreasonable, especially since our lease says that a tenant needs only four hours notice before the “landlord or his agent” shows the room.
— Van T., Davis, Calif.

Answer: 24 hours is plenty of notice. But it’s your landlord, not you, who has the right to show the room.

According to California Civil Code section 1954, a landlord may enter the house to “exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees, [or] tenants.” And your lease, as you’ve quoted it, says that only four hours is enough notice before the landlord can exhibit the room.

You, however, are not the landlord. You are a co-tenant.

It seems your landlord is on board with you showcasing the house, though. One easy solution would be for your landlord to deputize you, preferably in writing, making you his agent. As his agent, you could enter the room with at least four hours’ notice (according to the lease) or 24 hours’ notice (according to California law). The landlord could write up something saying that “Van T. is my authorized agent and will exhibit your room to prospective tenants on June 5, 2013 at 5 p.m.” Post that on your roommate’s door at least 24 hours in advance along with a highlighted copy of the lease and California Civil Code 1954.

You might also remind them that refusing to allow access is a breach of the lease, and might be grounds for eviction — and payment of the landlord’s attorney fees.

Daniel is a Sacramento attorney, former Davis City Council candidate and graduate of UC Davis School of Law. He’ll answer questions sent to him at governorwatts@gmail.com or tweeted to @governorwatts.


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