What if a Tenant Dies?

Unfortunately, death is an inevitable event, and sometimes it can happen in a rental unit. In the event of a tenant dying on your property, there is a specific protocol you should follow.

Your Immediate Responsibilities

Once you are informed of a tenant’s death, you should secure the property to protect the tenant’s possessions by locking the doors and closing the windows. Securing the property should be of utmost importance. When the executor becomes involved, you should provide that person with a key. Before doing so, take a video of the property in its current condition for the record. Family members who wish to enter the premises should be accompanied at all times and should not be allowed to take anything to avoid any legal trouble.

If you happen to find the tenant dead, you should call the police so they can handle everything. You should then contact the tenant’s immediate family member and inform them of the death unless the police have already done so. From there, you will coordinate with the family and the executor for further action.

Look at the Lease

If you included a clause or addendum in your lease regarding the death of a tenant, you may have certain obligations. You may not be liable for the storage or disposition of the tenant’s belongings. There is even a possibility that you will have to hold on to the items until you contact the tenant’s family. Make sure to look at your state laws to see what you’re allowed to do. To prevent liability issues, you should include a death clause in your lease, like the following:

By signing this rental agreement, the tenant agrees that upon surrender, abandonment, or recovery of possession of the dwelling unit due to the death of the last remaining tenant, the landlord shall not be liable or responsible for storage or disposition of the tenant’s personal property.

Acquire a Written Notice

Contact the next of the tenant’s kin (a.k.a. their closest, immediate family member) and request a written notice of the death. This will be useful when you are going over finances, preparing the property for new tenants, and assisting the family with the arrangements. It’s imperative that you discuss all the details with the tenant’s executor to make sure you are legally compliant. Keep in mind that a lease does not automatically end upon the death of a tenant, so pay careful attention to process.

What Happens to the Lease?

Depending on the kind of lease you have, ending it will call for different actions.

  • Month-to-month: In this scenario, the written notice of the tenant’s death serves as a 30-day notice for the termination of the lease. The estate is responsible for paying the rent owed to the landlord during that time period. You should talk to the executor about the procedure for removing possessions and cleaning out the property within an appropriate deadline.
  • Long-term: In a long-term lease that is still active, the tenant’s estate is legally responsible for rental payments until the lease’s end date. Usually, however, landlords are keen on getting new tenants into the unit as soon as possible. Similarly, most executors don’t want to keep paying rent for a unit that is now uninhabited. If this is the case, talk to the executor and work out a deal. You should treat the situation as a broken lease agreement, where the executor pays rent until you find a new tenant.

What Happens to the Security Deposit?

If you charged a security deposit at the start of the lease, you may be wondering what you’re supposed to do with the money. Landlords have the right to use the security deposit to cover the costs of damages, unpaid rent, and other incurred costs. The remainder of the security deposit must be given to the executor. If the security deposit does not cover the costs, then you must work with the executor to be compensated. You should create an itemized list of these charges and provide it to the executor as well.

After the Fact

Once all loose ends are tied up, it’s time to prepare your unit for new tenants. You should do a deep cleaning of the property, no matter what the nature of the death was. Hiring a professional cleaning company may even be best, depending on the situation. Pungent odors may be lingering and mildew or mold may cover the vents. Once the property is clean, you’re free to advertise your property and welcome new tenants.