tenant dies in rental property

You should know a landlord’s rights and responsibilities in the event of a tenant death which can save you confusion, stress and even legal problems.

These guidelines focus on tenants who lived alone or were the sole name listed on the lease agreement.

Recently we consulted with Avvo’s Legal Counsel and asked them questions on what to do if a tenant dies in your rental property.

In the video below you watch as Eric Worral and Steve White of RentPrep discuss with Esther Sirotnik of Avvo.

You can also subscribe to our “RentPrep for Landlords” Podcast for weekly episodes.
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Do I Need Official Notification?

Acquire a written notice of the tenant’s death, either from the next of kin or the executor of the tenant’s estate. This notice is important when it comes to recouping any financial loss, assisting family members and transitioning the property for new occupants.

Also, open the lines of communication with the deceased tenant’s executor so you can discuss transitioning the rental property back to you. 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.

What are my immediate responsibilities?

Once you are informed of a tenant’s death, you have the right to secure the property from any potential theft of possessions. Check that all the doors and windows to the unit are locked.

If the tenant lived alone, you might even consider changing the locks to make sure the home is secured against any friends or family members who also have keys.

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 clothes for the deceased or photos for a memorial service. Once you establish communication with the executor, you can surrender a key and let him or her manage the tenant’s property.

What happens to an apartment lease when someone dies?

A lease agreement extends to the expiration date, even if the tenant dies, so a lot depends on whether the tenant was in a month-to-month or a longer term agreement.

Month-to-month

Generally, the official written notice of the tenant’s death acts as a 30-day notice and signals the end of the lease. 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.

Long-term

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. In that case, work with the executor and treat the situation as a broken lease agreement, where the executor pays rent until you are able to re-rent the property and put new tenants in.

If a tenant dies what happens to the deposit?

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.

Landlords should create an itemized list of deductions from the security deposit and provide that along with any remaining funds.

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.

FAQs when a tenant dies in rental

If a tenant dies is the lease null and void?

No, the lease is not null and void when a tenant dies. 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.

Tenant dies what happens to belongings?

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.

 

24 Comments

  1. I am surprise there is no mention of “Release of the right of possession” note..a must for every landlord..this note must be sign by the executor or responsible family member of a deceased tenant… It protect you from any future lawsuits..the lease of a deceased tenant is now the executor lease..the executor must return the rental to your possession once he removes all deceased tenant belongings.

  2. Great point Elly!

    I forget how useful that document can be. Any situations I’ve had there has not been anyone that wanted the belongings and I followed the traditional abandonment procedures.

    But in the event you’re dealing with someone who is going to claim their stuff, a Release of the Right of Possession would be perfect!

    Thanks for sharing and adding to the value here!!

  3. I would assume the Canadian laws are similar to the US – send notice and give it 30 days before the rental can be entered and cleaned out

  4. First and foremost, get a new application filled out by the tenant. With the other tenant dying, you need to have the new primary listed on a lease. And since you’ll be qualifying the tenant for the unit, you’ll have to decide if they meet the minimum requirements. Which it sounds like they may not considering the loss of income.

    At the end of the day, if they can’t afford the rent, you’re not doing anyone a favor by making exceptions. They’ll always be behind and won’t have any money to live, and you’ll be paying your moms mortgage to make up for the lost rent.

    It’s a hard thing to do, but if they can’t afford to stay you need to find new tenants. If you want to be as nice as possible you can give her a month to apply, and qualify for some sort of subsidized housing if it’s available. But I wouldn’t give more than 30 days. They should know by then, if not already approved.

    Good luck and keep me posted with what happens.

    That’s the easy part. Now you need to d

  5. Security deposits cannot be applied to late rent. And since it’s 10 days after the rent was due.. of course the landlord would want to know what is happening. What is your plan for paying the rent or moving out? Don’t assume that your landlord knows what your plan is, be sure to communicate.

  6. Sounds like the landlord is treating the boyfriend like the tenant and giving him the same rights. Is he the executor of her estate?

  7. What type of justice are you seeking? Did you get the belongings back? If yes, I’m not sure you’d be entitled to anything other than knowing you held the landlord accountable for their actions.

  8. Absolutely not Richard. Even in a case where he was alive and broke the lease, there’s not a judge in the country that will enforce the remainder of a lease beyond 2 1/2 months. A judge will give the landlord ample time to turn the property and re-rent, which should never take 6 or 7 months to do.

    In your case, I would be thrilled with the next month’s rent and security deposit. Beyond that, you’d be wasting your own time and money trying to enforce the remainder of the lease.

  9. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that without a whole bunch of details. Including what state you’re in and the letter of the lease with option. I would consult with your attorney on something this important.

  10. In the future I’d ask for documentation of POA. Or at the very least, make them sign a statement that they are the POA and responsible for the deceased’s belongings.

  11. I think you have to wait until the lease is up since the rent is paid in full. Otherwise you could put the belongings in storage and begin the sale process.

  12. Use the security deposit as you would normally. It should cover damages, which in most states includes lost rent. Be sure to document well and be honest so you can sleep at night not worrying you did the wrong thing.

  13. I would assume yes, if the lease was split. If you signed your own individual lease as a roommate you should only be responsible for your portion ever.

  14. I would check with a local attorney to be sure you’re not potentially violating any security deposit laws specific to your state. It sounds like a potentially tricky situation.

  15. Great article! How do you go about finding the executor or finding out if the deceased had an estate in probate?

  16. What happens when the deceased body hasn’t been discovered for 3 weeks and because of this the cleanup and repair cost tens of thousands? And the value of the property and rent is then a “Stigmatized”?

  17. I had a Mother/Daughter month to month lease. Nothing down, no last month rent to collect. Mother passed and 19 yo, remained on lease, to care for mother, and stayed mostly; however, since the death, she must be staying somewhere else. Pets seem to remain, fed to a point. ?? Can I ask her daughter to be out by the first of the month if they have paid until the first? If she doesn’t plan to stay?

  18. My father passed. He was living month to month (no lease) in an apt. The landlord did not have a security deposit. Who is responsible for repairs? (I have no proof that any damage was caused by my father). Landlord wants to trade his possessions for repair costs…The landlord was foolish in not getting a deposit from him, so I don’t know who is liable.

  19. Good information. I just had a tenant pass, and I was questioning whether or not the nephew of tenant is the person in charge. Also what form to use in reference to tenants furniture and personal belongings. Since the tenant pass the day before rent would be due we are not concerned with past due rent as long personal belongings are removed within 30 days.

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