What to Do if your Tenant Dies

tenant dies

When a tenant dies, knowing how to proceed with the duration of the lease agreement or rental payments, returning or withholding a security deposit, and relocating your tenant’s personal property is crucial to avoiding stress and legal liabilities. Death isn’t a fun topic to talk about – but knowing your rights to regain the rental property is a big part of being a landlord. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared just in case.

Be aware that you will need to adhere to your state and local laws. Some states, like California, require landlords to follow specific steps to regain a property after a tenant’s death – and these requirements can vary depending on where your property is located. While this article will contain some general principles that apply to developing policies and procedures for managing deceased tenants that lived alone (or were the sole person on the lease agreement), review your state’s laws and talk to your attorney before applying any new language to your lease.

 

Acquiring Rental Payments or Terminating the Lease

When a tenant passes away the responsibility of the lease agreement falls upon the deceased’s estate (which is oftentimes handled by the tenant’s family – such as their spouse, child/children or parent). Moving forward after a tenant has died depends on the terms of the lease agreement, your state’s laws, and any negotiations made between you and the executor of the tenant’s estate that can be proven using verifiable means (documentation, most likely).

Quick Tip: Your lease should have an emergency contact section, in case you discover your tenant has died. If you want extra insurance, add a separate section where your tenants can add the contact information of their executor of their state or ‘next of kin’.

  • Month-to-Month

Generally, the estate is responsible for paying all the rent owed to the landlord. Since they’ll be cleaning out the rental property and dealing with the tenant’s possessions, they may choose to negotiate when the lease ends. If you want to end the lease, the official written notice of your tenant’s death can act as a 30-day notice.

Quick Tip: Make sure you get an official written notice that the tenant had died from the estate! This might take some time as the tenant’s family processes the death, so be patient and ask politely.  

  • Annual

As we said above, the estate is responsible for the lease agreement. This includes all the rental payments until the lease expires. That being said, most estates (or family members) don’t want to pay for an empty rental, and you might want to get new tenants into your property. If this is the case, negotiate with the executor of the estate. This could mean a situation where the executor pays the rent until you’re able to screen applicants and start renting to new tenants.

Handling the Security Deposit

You should handle the security deposit like you do normally – to cover unpaid rent, property damages, or other costs that were established in your lease. The remaining deposit should be given to the executor of the estate. Unfortunately, if the security deposit doesn’t cover all the damages, you’ll have to work with the executor to cover the cost(s).

Providing Access to your Tenant’s Property

Most states give the landlord the right to secure the property (a.k.a. changing the locks) once you find out about the tenant’s death. If the executor of the lease wishes to enter your rental property, work with them to set up a time to give them access to the deceased tenant’s possessions. If possible, accompany them to the property.

Quick Tip: If you believe there might be disputes surrounding the estate, consider writing down a list of everything removed and keeping track of who accessed the property and when.

In this tricky situation, remember that patience and kindness can go a long way when negotiating with the tenant’s family or estate executor. Moving forward, be sure to look up your local laws and give yourself a little personal time. Loosing someone, no matter how close you were, is tough and you deserve a second to grieve as well.

 

Have you had to deal with a tenant passing away? How did you handle the situation?

 

Check Out These Other Great Articles!

How to Improve your Property’s NOI

Should Landlords have Access to the Sex Offender Registry?

How to Handle a Hoarding Tenant

 


 

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4 thoughts on “What to Do if your Tenant Dies

  1. Blog Visitor David Cardoza says:

    I have a tenant that was a good friend and I leased out my condo to him until 2024 a 10 yr lease. He is the only one on the lease agreement. He has recently past and his new wife is living in the condo. I did not know he got married and the wife was not added to the lease. The wife was using the tenants bank account to pay rent until his bank account was frozen to figure out finances. She is now paying out of her account for the rent. I have cashed 3 months of her checks. My question is can I give her 30 day notice?

    • Hi David,

      I’m sorry to hear about losing your friend. This is never an ideal situation to find yourself in, but at the end of the day you have lease agreements for a reason. First and foremost I encourage you to check with a lawyer regarding laws that might be specific to your state. That said, if there is no record of her on the lease then she is essentially a squatter. Them having gotten married may complicate this situation though which is why checking with a lawyer will be your safest course of action before taking any steps to remove her from the property.

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