What to Do If a Tenant Dies in Your Rental Property

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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.