tenant deathWhat happens if a tenant dies in a rental property? Tenant deaths are a somber topic but one that needs to be addressed.

Hopefully, you never have to deal with the death of a renter, but if you do there are certain steps a landlord needs to follow to make sure everything is handled legally.  

Make sure to follow your state and local laws for how to appropriately handle a tenant death at your rental property.

When a tenant dies while under an active lease and leaves no surviving adult tenants, landlords will likely incur serious expenses; and if not done correctly, those expenses can add up quickly.

Here are some basics steps to take when dealing with a tenant’s death:

Despite what some might think, when a tenant dies the lease remains active. You should check with your state and local laws about your rights and responsibilities when it come to managing a deceased tenant.

Remember to be sensitive and professional when dealing with a tenant’s death. Always keep excellent records of any actions you take regarding the property and contact with the executor or family.

Get written notification of a tenant’s death.

You will typically find out about a tenant’s death one of two ways. Either the family or deceased executor will contact you or the deceased will be discovered at your property.

Make sure to get a written notice about a tenant’s death from next of kin or the executor, so you can start the transition to re-renting and recoup any financial loss.

If you discover the deceased body on your property call the police immediately. They will handle contacting the next of kin and direct you on how to retain a death certificate if there is no next of kin.

Once the tenant’s death has been established, you can start working towards getting the ready for the next tenancy.

Secure the Property

Make sure the doors and windows are locked. See to it that pets are taken care of. Other than that, do not touch anything unless you absolutely have to in order to secure the property. Further, take someone with you as a witness — or at the very least, use your smartphone to take a video of your entry.

What Happens to the Lease?

The deceased tenant’s property, debt, and contracts will transfer to the estate or next of kin. This means, that the lease agreement does not automatically end when a tenant dies. In most states a landlord can hold an estate accountable for any unpaid rent for the remainder of the lease terms. However, a compassionate landlord will work with the family and executor to allow them to end the lease and move the deceased tenant’s belonging.

What do I with the tenant’s belongings?

A landlord has no right to simply go in and remove the deceased tenant’s belongings.  You need to work with the family or executor to get them to remove the deceased tenant’s belongings. Try to be compassionate about their feelings and what the family is going through.

Set a realistic timeline for the family to remove the belongings and clean the property.  Anywhere from 2 weeks to 30 days is a good time frame.  You can let the family know that they will be responsible for rent for the amount of time it takes them to clean the property and return possession back to you.

If there is no next of kin, follow your state’s laws for how to deal with abandoned tenant property, especially regarding a tenant’s death. You may be required to store the property for a specific number of days and then sell the property at auction and return the funds to the state if no next of kin can be found.

Release to the Rights of Possession

Once the property is cleared and cleaned to your satisfaction, ask the next of kin to sign a “release to the rights of possession” form. Once that is completed, you are then in pretty good shape at that point to go ahead and re-rent the property.

The Security Deposit

You may use the deceased tenant’s security deposit to pay unpaid rent, damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear, and cleaning costs. Any unused portion of the deposit should be sent to the deceased tenant’s executor, along with an itemized list of deductions. If the amount of rent, damages and cleaning exceed the total security deposit, you’ll need to petition the deceased tenant’s estate for compensation.

Knowing the steps to take if you ever have to deal with the death of one of your tenants can save you potential legal trouble and will help you keep costs at a minimum. Remember to be respectful regarding the death while taking steps to protect yourself and your business.

This article was originally published in March 2017 and has since been updated.

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