tenant dies in your rental property

Navigating the delicate situation of a tenant’s death requires sensitivity and legal awareness. Learn how to respectfully and legally manage your property and support the tenant’s family during this difficult time.

Key Takeaways

  • Legal Procedures: Follow legal protocols for notifying authorities and securing the property.
  • Estate Communication: Work closely with the tenant’s estate or executor to manage belongings and lease obligations.
  • Respect and Sensitivity: Handle the situation with the utmost respect for the deceased and their family.
  • Lease Continuation: Understand that the lease terms continue until properly concluded with the estate.
  • Security Deposit: Process the security deposit according to standard procedures, with deductions itemized and communicated to the estate.

Discovering that a tenant has died in your rental property is a situation filled with both emotional and logistical challenges. Landlords must navigate this delicate situation by securing the apartment, liaising with the tenant’s estate, and preparing the property for future tenants, all while ensuring that the tenant’s belongings and legacy are treated with the utmost respect.

The death of a tenant prompts a series of legal and procedural steps that must be followed to respect the rights of the deceased and their family while also adhering to the lease terms. This includes securing the property, notifying the authorities, and working with the executor to manage the tenant’s belongings and the continuation or termination of the lease.

But this can be complicated when dealing with a grieving family, especially if any estate details are in dispute.

The most complex situations involve 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 essential 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 Died In Your Rental Property – Now What?

A Tenant Died In Your Rental Property - Now What?

What should a landlord do when a tenant dies? When a tenant dies, a landlord should immediately contact the authorities, secure the property, and wait for official notification of death. Next, communicate with the tenant’s executor to handle belongings and conclude the lease. It’s crucial to act sensitively, respecting the grieving family’s process while adhering to legal requirements.

If a tenant dies during the lease term, the contractual obligations initially agreed upon do not immediately dissolve. Instead, these obligations transfer to the tenant’s estate, which includes the continuation of rent payments and maintenance of the property until the lease can be formally concluded. 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 property’s integrity, including securing the deceased’s possessions.

You cannot remove personal belongings from the property without the estate’s cooperation.

Resolving a tenancy for someone who has died can be complex, and it’s essential to pay close attention to the law throughout the process. Follow the following five steps to resolve the situation.

Step 1: Contact Authorities

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 notifications can be sensitive, and you want to avoid placing yourself in the middle of the situation.

Step 2: Wait For Official Notification

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 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.

Step 3: Secure The Property

Once 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 received official notice.

If the tenant lived alone, consider changing the locks to secure the home against anyone else with a key.

Securing the property ensures no one can enter it without your knowledge, even if they’re related to the deceased tenant. The tenant’s belongings must be administered appropriately 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 residing 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, talk with them about how to proceed and who will handle the property in this interim period. Your contract with the property management company might include specifics on how this type of situation will be addressed, 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 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.

Step 4: Communicate With The Executor

Another critical 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.

Upon the unfortunate event of a tenant’s death, the responsibility for cleaning out the apartment falls to the deceased tenant’s estate. Landlords must work with the estate’s executor to ensure that the apartment is respectfully cleared of the tenant’s personal belongings and ready for future occupancy.

When a tenant passes away, their personal belongings are handled by their estate according to legal and lease agreements. Landlords should facilitate this process by providing access to the apartment for the executor or designated family members to retrieve and manage these items appropriately.

The executor will be a big part of ensuring you can smoothly retake control of your rental property, so you want to establish a strong relationship from the beginning. They will deal 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.

Sometimes, an estate has not yet set up an executor, so you must 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.

Step 5: Be Patient With The Process

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 will take a bit of time, so have patience. The original lease agreement stands until you and the executor can close it out, so you must continue as if the tenant were still occupying the property.

What Happens To An Apartment Lease When Someone Dies?

What Happens To An Apartment Lease When Someone Dies?

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?

Following the death of a tenant, the tenancy continues under the terms of the existing lease, now overseen by the tenant’s estate. This transition period requires landlords to maintain open communication with the estate’s executor to address ongoing rent responsibilities and the eventual clearing and re-leasing of the property. What happens next depends on whether the tenant was in a month-to-month or longer-term agreement.

Month-To-Month Lease Obligation After Death

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 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.

Long-Term Lease Obligation After Death

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 want to avoid paying rent on an empty unit. Pushing for full lease payment, 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.

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 repercussions. What you decide to do is up to you, and you should balance what is best for your business with what you feel is morally right.

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.


Limiting Entry To The Late Tenant’s Home

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, friends, and family may want to enter the rental unit.

Gaining access to an apartment after the tenant’s death requires legal authorization and careful coordination. Landlords should ensure that only the executor or authorized individuals enter the premises to secure the tenant’s belongings, maintaining respect for the tenant’s privacy and the estate’s rights during this sensitive time.

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 only want people to take items if you have recorded what is being taken. Explain with as much gentleness as possible that this is simply for accountability.

Once you communicate with the executor, you can surrender a key and let them manage the tenant’s personal property. If any family members approach you after passing this authority over to the executor, tell them they must contact the executor to enter the property.

Even if some family members get upset about this, it’s the appropriate way to ensure your late tenant’s belongings are distributed and handled the way they are meant to be.

If A Tenant Dies, What Happens To The Deposit?

Some landlords mistakenly believe they do not need to return the security deposit if a tenant dies, but that is false. 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 deposit portion must be returned to the executor in place 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 vital that you complete these steps even if the situation may be a little different.

If 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 to get the funds to make repairs and cover damages the tenant may have caused.

What Happens To A Deceased Tenant’s Belongings?

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 per the lease agreement.

The estate is responsible for removing the deceased tenant’s possessions and returning the property to you in a reasonable condition. This means they should cover cleaning and repairs as stipulated in the lease.

The security deposit is also the property of the estate. While it can 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.

If 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 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 take legal action.

If the estate 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 the property for a minimum period, after which it should be auctioned. Profit made at auction will usually need to be paid to the state.

Lease Provisions And Tenant Death: What’s The Deal?

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.

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, review state and local laws to be sure it is permitted.

Beyond The Agreement: Focus On Communication

Communication with the executor will be key every step of the way. If you need help getting the executor to work with you, feel free to obtain your own legal representation to ensure you can earn 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 you and the late tenant may have signed. 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.

FAQs: What Should A Landlord Do When A Tenant Dies?

Landlords often question 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.

What Does A Landlord Need To Do If A Tenant Dies?

Suppose one of your tenants dies, and they were the sole individual on the lease agreement. In that case, you must 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 the tenant.

Only do something to the property, such as removing the tenant’s belongings, once 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 If Someone Dies In A Rented Property?

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 secure 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, 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.

If A Tenant Dies, Is There Any Lease Obligation After Death?

The lease is not null and void when a tenant passes. In a month-to-month lease, the death acts as a notice so that 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.

Who Is Responsible For Cleaning Out The Apartment After The Death Of A Tenant?

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 need 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.

Does Landlord Insurance Cover The Death Of A Tenant?

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. Landlords must read through their policies to understand what is and is not covered. Contact your insurance company with any questions that you might have.

What Happens To A Lease If The Owner Dies?

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 precisely who will get ownership; in other cases, an executor will sort that out. Either way, the lease agreement and its terms will remain in effect for the duration of the lease.

The death of a property owner does not automatically trigger eviction proceedings for existing tenants. Instead, the lease agreements remain in force, and the process for any potential eviction follows the legal and contractual obligations set forth before the owner’s death, now overseen by the owner’s estate.

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 would not be allowed after the owner’s death. Instead, the new owner would have to follow standard lease agreement rules for ending the lease before it expires.

What Happens When A Rent-Controlled Tenant Dies?

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 have 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 temporarily live away for reasons such as military duty or as a student, they can still claim on this basis.

Are You Obliged To Tell Future Tenants About Deaths On A Property?

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.

How Long Does It Take To Re-Lease A Property After A Tenant’s Death?

If a tenant dies, you’ll need to break your lease with their estate as usual. 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 give the estate a more extended period to deal with vacating the property. You can also choose whether to require them to pay total rent for the period 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 challenging to show the apartment while it’s still being organized and cleaned out by grieving family members.

Cautiously Continue Your Business

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 cautiously to follow all necessary legal procedures.

As mentioned, a lease agreement doesn’t simply end when a tenant passes away, so you must ensure 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 more significant financial or even legal trouble, so slow down to ensure you take all appropriate steps along the way.