Updated July 2023
It can be a shocking and stressful experience for any landlord when one of their tenants dies, not to mention a situation that isn’t simple to resolve. After all, a lease does not automatically end with the death of your tenant — you now have to deal with their estate.
As a landlord, your main goal will be to reclaim your rental property and minimize loss of income. At the same time, you’ll also be supporting the deceased tenant’s family in reclaiming their loved one’s possessions and meeting their obligations to you.
But this can be complicated when dealing with a grieving family, especially if any details of the estate are in dispute.
The most complex situations are those involving a tenant who lived alone or was the sole tenant named on the lease. Their estate is responsible for settling their lease with you, and you’re responsible for protecting the tenant’s rights — for example, ensuring the security of their personal belongings.
So, what should you do to resolve a deceased tenant situation in keeping with the law and in a way that supports your business while being sensitive to the needs of the grieving family? Find all the information you need in our landlord guide below.
Table Of Contents For What To Do If A Tenant Dies In Your Property
While it is unpleasant to think about, it’s important to know exactly what to do when a tenant dies in your rental property, both to secure your property and to deal with the situation legally and with dignity and respect. Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
- A Tenant Dies In Your Rental Property; Now What?
- What Happens To An Apartment Lease When Someone Dies?
- Limiting Entry To The Late Tenant’s Home
- If A Tenant Dies, What Happens To The Deposit?
- What Happens To A Deceased Tenant’s Belongings?
- Lease Provisions And Tenant Death: What’s The Deal?
- FAQs: What Should A Landlord Do When A Tenant Dies?
- What Does A Landlord Need To Do If A Tenant Dies?
- What Happens If Someone Dies In A Rented Property?
- If A Tenant Dies, Is There Any Lease Obligation After Death?
- Who Is Responsible For Cleaning Out The Apartment After The Death Of A Tenant?
- Does Landlord Insurance Cover The Death Of A Tenant?
- What Happens To A Lease If The Owner Dies?
- What Happens When A Rent-Controlled Tenant Dies?
- Are You Obliged To Tell Future Tenants About Deaths On A Property?
- How Long Does It Take To Re-Lease A Property After The Death Of A Tenant?
- Cautiously Continue Your Business
What if a tenant who is the sole occupant of one of your properties dies? What are your responsibilities as a landlord, and what are your rights in terms of retaking possession of your property and moving forward?
When a tenant dies, their lease agreement continues to hold force, and responsibility for fulfilling that agreement passes to their estate, which is usually managed by an executor. You will need to close the lease with the deceased’s estate in the way specified in the contract.
While you are dealing with that process, they will continue to owe you rent, and you will continue to be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the property, which includes securing the possessions of the deceased.
This means you cannot remove any personal belongings from the property without the cooperation of the estate.
It’s clear that resolving a tenancy for someone who has died can be complex, and it’s important to pay close attention to the law throughout the process. In general, you should follow the following five steps to resolve the situation.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of discovering that your tenant has passed away, contact 911 or the appropriate authorities immediately. They will handle the scene as needed, and you should wait to take any further action until authorities permit you to do so.
Let the authorities deal with contacting the next of kin. These types of notifications can be sensitive and you do not want to place yourself in the middle of the situation.
Regardless of whether or not you know about your tenant passing away, you must wait until you receive written notice of their passing. You will need this documentation in order to transition your property, recoup any financial losses, and assist family members in retrieving their loved one’s possessions.
Acquire a written notice of the tenant’s death, either from the next of kin or the executor of the tenant’s estate. If they do not have an executor, contact local authorities to obtain copies of the relevant documentation.
Once you’ve been informed of a tenant’s death, you have the right and responsibility to secure the property from any potential theft of possessions. Check that all the doors and windows are locked. In most states, this can be done as soon as you know about the tenant’s death, even if you haven’t yet received official notice.
If the tenant lived alone, you might even consider changing the locks to make sure the home is secured against anyone else who may also have a key.
The goal of securing the property is to ensure that no one can enter the property without your knowledge, even if they’re related to the deceased tenant. The tenant’s belongings need to be properly administered according to their estate, so you should help secure the property and allow this to occur. This also protects you against being named in the case of any missing or disputed property.
Securing the property also prevents others from taking up residence there, perhaps as a “successor” to the deceased tenant, leaving you with a tenant without a legal lease.
If you’re working with a property management company, make sure to talk with them about how to proceed and who will be handling the property in this interim period. Your contract with the property management company might even include specifics on how this type of situation will be handled, so be sure to review that contract as well.
Remember that when securing the property, you do not have the right to remove anything that belonged to the deceased tenant. The only things that you should consider removing are items such as spoiled food or other things that pose a risk to the integrity of the property. The deceased’s estate should take possession of any pets.
Keep thorough records of everything you do to demonstrate that you acted within the letter of the law.
Another important step is to open the lines of communication with the deceased tenant’s executor. This will enable you to discuss transitioning the real estate back to you. After all, a lease agreement does not terminate automatically upon a tenant’s death, so you don’t have a legal right to repossess the property or remove the tenant’s possessions without going through the proper steps.
The executor will be a big part of making sure that you can smoothly retake control of your rental property, so you want to be sure to establish a strong relationship from the beginning. They will be dealing with many aspects of the late tenant’s estate, but that should not stop you from actively working with them when necessary. It’s part of their responsibility as an estate executor.
In some cases, an estate will not yet have an executor, so you will need to work with an assigned individual or a probate court to deal with your lease and rental-related issues. Contact housing authorities and your local jurisdiction for direction if you’re not sure who else to contact in the case of a tenant’s death.
Remember that the family members, possibly including the estate executor, are grieving the loss of a beloved family member and friend. While you might be focused on regaining control of the property as quickly as possible, their priorities will not align with yours.
The process is not going to be immediate, so have patience. The original lease agreement stands until you and the executor can close it out, so you need to continue as if the tenant were still occupying the property.
One of the biggest questions landlords have when navigating a tenant’s death is what happens to a rental lease when someone dies. Does the lease agreement expire automatically because the individual passed away, or is there something else that needs to be done to transition the property’s legal use back to you, the owner?
In terms of a month-to-month lease agreement, in most cases the official written notice of the tenant’s death acts as a 30-day notice and signals the end of the lease.
What does this mean for the property, the estate, and you?
This means that the estate is responsible for paying all rent owed to the landlord for 30 days after the written notice is delivered. Coordinate with the executor about removing possessions and cleaning out the rental property by the appropriate deadline.
The executor may request an extension to remove belongings, and it is up to you and the letter of local law to determine if that is permissible. In most cases, landlords will agree to an extension to make the process easier for everyone involved.
If the tenant had a long-term lease, the deceased tenant’s estate is legally responsible for rental payments until the lease expires.
However, most landlords are interested in re-renting the unit as soon as possible, and most executors don’t want to pay rent on an empty unit. Pushing for full payment of the lease, even when the property has been liberated, is often seen as taking advantage of the situation and may reflect poorly on you in the case of any related legal dispute down the line.
The best scenario is to work with the executor as though you’re dealing with a broken lease agreement, and ask the estate to pay rent only until the property is re-rented and a new tenant has taken over the lease.
You can also allow the tenant’s estate to break the lease without any repercussions. What you decide to do is up to you, and you should make sure to balance what is best for your business with what you feel is the morally right thing to do.
Landlords can learn a lot about how to handle these situations from landlords who have already dealt with a tenant’s death. Recently, we consulted with Avvo’s Legal Counsel and asked them questions on what to do if a tenant passes away in your rental property.
In the video below, watch Eric Worral and Steve White of RentPrep discuss this topic with Esther Sirotnik of Avvo.
You can also subscribe to our RentPrep for Landlords Podcast for weekly episodes.
One aspect of dealing with the aftermath of a tenant passing away that can be particularly awkward for landlords is managing who can and cannot enter the property. After you secure the property, it’s possible that friends and family may want to enter the rental unit.
If family members approach you about entering the property, protect yourself from potential disputes down the road and always accompany guests into the home.
Make a list of anything removed, such as clothing for the deceased or photos for a memorial service. Though it can seem petty, you do not want anyone to take items unless you have recorded what is being taken. Explain with as much gentleness as possible that this is simply for accountability.
Once you establish communication with the executor, you can surrender a key and let them manage the tenant’s personal property. If any family members approach you after you have passed this authority over to the executor, let them know they’ll need to contact the executor in order to enter the property.
Even if some family members may get upset about this, it’s the appropriate way to ensure that your late tenant’s belongings are distributed and handled the way they are meant to be.
Some landlords mistakenly believe they do not need to return the security deposit if a tenant passes away, but that is simply not true. The security deposit must be handled in the same way that it would be in any other situation.
Landlords can use a deceased tenant’s security deposit to cover unpaid rent, damages, and any other costs established in the lease agreement. The unused portion of the deposit must be returned to the executor in lieu of the late tenant.
Landlords should create an itemized list of deductions from the security deposit and provide that along with any remaining funds. This is the same process used with any tenant, and it’s key that you do not skip these steps just because the situation may be a little different.
In the event that the deposit doesn’t cover all the repairs required to return the rental property to an acceptable level of habitability, you must work with the executor to cover those costs.
You can file a creditor’s claim if the estate is in probate, or work directly with the executor in getting the funds to make repairs and cover damages the tenant may have caused.
A deceased tenant’s belongings form part of their estate, so their possession falls to the estate. This means you do not have the right to remove any of their property. However, you can stipulate a deadline by which this needs to be done in accordance with the lease agreement.
The estate has the responsibility to remove the deceased tenant’s possessions and to return the property to you in a reasonable condition. This means that they should cover cleaning and repairs as stipulated in the lease.
The security deposit is also the property of the estate. While it can be used to cover outstanding rent, cleaning, and repairs, whatever is not spent should be returned to the estate with an itemized list of what was spent and why.
In the event that the estate does not remove the deceased tenant’s belongings, they can give you written permission to clear the property yourself so you can prepare it for release more quickly.
While you may not be legally required to do so, if you come across anything that you suspect may be of value, it’s a good idea to contact the executor rather than just claim the property. If they learn about this later, they could choose to take legal action.
If the estate simply abandons the person’s belongings and does nothing to deal with them within the time stipulated, you can deal with those items within the abandoned property laws listed for your state.
You will probably be required to store property for a minimum period of time, after which it should be sold at auction. Profit made at auction will usually need to be paid to the state.
Over the years, some landlords have adapted their lease agreements to include a clause that requires late tenants’ estates to pay rent for the entire agreement period no matter what. While this might seem like a great way to protect your profits, it’s not always the right choice.
In fact, many states, such as Pennsylvania, have forbidden this kind of “death penalty” from leases in the state. Before deciding to add this type of penalty to your leases, make sure you review state and local laws to be sure it is permitted.
Communication with the executor is going to be key every step of the way. If you’re having trouble getting the executor to work with you, do not hesitate to get your own legal representation to ensure you’re able to get the funds necessary to continue managing the rental unit.
Throughout this process, the executor will request forms from you about the lease agreement, security deposit, and any other documentation that may have been signed by you and the late tenant. This is another reason it’s so important to keep your documentation thorough and up-to-date at all times.
To download a mega pack of forms explicitly made for landlords like you, check out our RentPrep Landlord Form bundle today.
Landlords often have questions about what exactly they can and should do when a tenant dies with an open lease agreement. Below are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions.
Suppose one of your tenants dies and they were the sole individual on the lease agreement. In that case, you will need to work with the late tenant’s estate executor to end the lease agreement, close out the security deposit, remove the tenant’s belongings, and wrap up any other financial obligations.
The process is relatively straightforward if you consider that the steps you need to take are the same as if a tenant were going to move out early. The major difference, of course, is that you’ll be working out the situation with the estate executor rather than with the tenant.
Do not do anything to the property, such as remove the tenant’s belongings, until you have worked with the executor to make formal decisions about the process. Document everything along the way to avoid any potential legal issues with family members or others who may disagree with the executor’s actions.
What happens after someone dies in a rented property depends on who the individual was and their relationship to the property.
If the sole tenant passes away, the property will be handled by communication between the landlord and the estate executor or next-of-kin taking over the estate. Until otherwise agreed upon, you should act as if the original lease agreement is still in place. You should not do anything other than securing the property from theft or other issues until you communicate with the executor.
If someone on the lease agreement passes away but is not the only tenant on the lease, the agreement will continue with the living individuals. If those tenants find that they cannot continue to pay rent or do not want to live there any longer, they’ll need to request an early termination or break their lease.
As a landlord, you can determine what you feel is appropriate. Many landlords allow leases to be dissolved early in these situations, but as the landlord, you are also within your rights to request the remaining tenants pay rent until you can find a new tenant.
The lease is not null and void when a tenant passes. In a month-to-month lease, the death acts as a notice, so the lease will expire within the next full calendar month. In long-term leases, the estate is responsible for the length of the lease, but many landlords will let the estate break the lease agreement even though they’re not required by law to do so.
First and foremost, the designated next-of-kin and executor will be responsible for removing and dispersing the deceased tenant’s belongings before the lease period is over.
If they leave anything behind, you may end up needing to dispose of these items. However, there might be specific rules about how you can and cannot do that.
This will depend on your state and you should treat this with caution. It’s a good idea to handle this as abandoned property and take all precautions before removing any property from the rental. Calling your local town clerk might be a good idea, to see if there are any laws on this matter as the laws vary by state.
The answer to this common question is dependent on the specific terms of the landlord’s insurance policy. Policies written to cover replacement costs might cover losses directly related to a tenant passing away, while policies written to cover actual cash value might not.
Ultimately, the specifics are going to be found in the details. It’s key for landlords to read through their policies, to have a complete understanding of what is and is not covered. Contact your insurance company with any questions that you might have.
If the rental property owner passes away, the lease agreement will be transferred with ownership of the property. In some cases, the late owner will have indicated exactly who will get ownership; in other cases, an executor will sort that out. Either way, the lease agreement and its terms will continue to remain in effect for the duration of the lease.
A new landlord, once instated, will need to follow the lease terms just as the renter will need to continue paying rent and following the lease terms.
For example, immediate eviction after the death of the owner would not be allowed. Instead, the new owner would have to follow standard lease agreement rules for ending the lease before it expires.
When the tenant of a rent-controlled apartment dies, while they cannot “will” their stabilized tenancy to a family member, some family members may have the right to claim succession to the rent-controlled status.
Family members who lived with the primary tenant in the apartment for at least two years since the start of the tenancy, or since the commencement of their relationship, may have succession claims. If they are temporarily living away for reasons such as military duty or as a student, they can still make a claim on this basis.
There is no federal law that requires landlords to inform new potential tenants that a previous occupant died on the premises. However, some states do require disclosure.
For example, in California you have to disclose to potential tenants if anyone has died on the property within the last three years and how they died.
While you may not be required to actively disclose this information in other states, you must provide accurate and true information if this information is requested.
If a tenant dies, you’ll need to break your lease with their estate in the usual manner. This means that the estate should receive a minimum of 30 days’ notice to remove the deceased tenant’s belongings and clean the property so that it can be returned to you in usable condition.
You can choose to give the estate a longer period of time to deal with vacating the property. You can also choose whether to require them to pay full rent for the period that the property is unavailable to you, or come to a personal agreement with the executor on what is owed.
You should expect it to take more than 30 days to procure a new tenant for the apartment since it may be difficult to show the apartment while it’s still being organized and cleaned out by grieving family members.
The bottom line in a situation where your tenant has passed away is that you will need to continue your business and re-rent the unit. However, you should also proceed with caution to ensure you’re following all necessary legal procedures along the way.
As mentioned, a lease agreement doesn’t simply end when a tenant passes away, so you need to make sure that you properly end the lease with the estate before you do anything further. From there, your communication with the estate’s executor will dictate how and when the property will be cleaned out so you can move on with business.
This process is going to be difficult, and you will need patience. Landlords often see time as money, but rushing can lead you to greater financial or even legal trouble, so slow down to ensure you take all appropriate steps along the way.