The Life and Death of Sylvia Joyce

My aunt Sylvia was my grandmother’s first child. My grandmother had married my biological grandfather against her guardians' wishes, he was in the military, so she was entirely alone when Sylvia came. My aunt Sylvia would live a full life of ups, downs, and the myriad things in between. She got married, divorced, had children, found love again, vacationed, sang, sewed, and more than anything, loved her family. In 2018, she was diagnosed with metastatic liver cancer.

She spent her last days in a hospice care facility in San Antonio. We visited her and she remarked how the hospice care facility didn’t have good food, and all she wanted was some decent italian. It’s San Antonio, so they don’t have any, but I looked up the best-rated local italian place and had them deliver a whole lasagna and slice of chocolate cake to her room. It was the first and last kindness I ever did for her.

At Aunt Sylvia’s funeral, we were making casual conversation when her daughter mentioned the nightmare she had just had to deal with when closing out her mom’s affairs. Aunt Sylvia had been renting an apartment on her meager Social Security checks when she got her diagnosis. When my cousin went to fetch family heirlooms from her mom’s last dwelling, the landlord stood between her and the doorway and demanded a lease termination fee be paid before letting my cousin in to fetch her family’s heirlooms. As we were driving home, I told my wife “that shit should be fucking illegal.”


My wife, at the time, was Chief of Staff for the state representative who presided over the district containing the hospice center and apartment complex. I don’t think I could have declared that it should have been illegal to a person more capable of making it so.

My wife had legislation banning lease termination fees for deceased tenants drafted very quickly. When you draft law at the Texas House, you invoke the Lege Council, who are a team of lawyers who know where laws pertaining to given matters are kept, and how to change it in such a way that would both achieve some goal and (ideally) survive judicial scrutiny down the line. Drafting law involves telling them in plain English the effects you’d like the law to have, and on the other end of it, they give you a piece of paper that you can bring to the House floor to propose as law. My wife walked in and said “make it against the law to charge a survivor of a deceased tenant a lease termination fee.” It seems so simple, maybe even a bit dystopian in restrospect.

Lobbying Pushback

I can only recall this story second hand, but I recall that the bill actually didn’t receive much pushback from landlords or apartment company lobbies. When the subject of that law came up with one such lobbyist, he remarked something to my wife along the lines of “yeah, that’s the sort of bill we’d normally fight, but if we do that, we look like monsters, so congrats on that one.”

When the bill finally passed, it was done so with explicit acknowledgement of my aunt. May she rest in peace.