How to Handle the Death of a Tenant

Written on April 20, 2016 by , updated on December 9, 2016

Death of a TenantDeath comes to all of us, and it may come to a tenant residing in your rental unit.

When dealing with the death of a tenant, you must remain sensitive to the family and friends of the deceased but also carefully follow legal procedures.

Review the Lease Agreement

Review your lease agreement for language referencing a tenant’s death. The agreement may not hold you liable for disposition or storage of the deceased’s personal property. Without that language, you may be stuck with the tenant’s belongings for a while if there’s an issue with finding the next of kin.

State Laws

What you can and cannot do when a tenant dies is subject to state law.

Two examples:

Contact your attorney to ensure you are acting legally.

Landlord Responsibilities

It’s your responsibility to protect the tenant’s personal property until an executor is named.

You’re also protecting yourself, since you don’t want heirs accusing you of making off with any belongings. Here are the basics:

  • Secure the property, locking all doors and windows. If legally permitted, change the locks.
  • Take a video of the property and its condition upon your entrance.
  • Do not let the deceased’s family or friends inside without accompanying them, and do not let them take anything.
  • Once the court names an executor, provide that person with a key. The executor is in charge of the tenant’s personal property and is the individual you deal with regarding estate matters. Make sure you see proof of executor status.

Fixed Leases

With a month-to-month lease, official notice of the death generally ends the lease, although state law may vary. With a fixed lease, however, just because the tenant is dead does not mean the apartment is available for rental to a new tenant. Standard leases contain information about heirs and successors.

As the American Bar Association points out, the tenant’s estate continues to owe rent on the dwelling until it is officially released, and has the right to occupy the premises. In most cases, the executor will want to stop paying rent as soon as possible. An arrangement where the estate continues to pay the rent until a new tenant is found works out for both parties.

Security Deposit

The security deposit may go toward rent, cleaning costs, and property damage.

  • Provide the executor with a detailed list of all expenditures.
  • If the security deposit is insufficient to cover costs, submit a claim to the estate through the probate court.
  • If there are funds left over from the security deposit, send the executor a check for the amount made out to “The Estate of Deceased’s Name.”

Worst-case Scenario

The worst-case scenario for a landlord occurs when a tenant dies in the rental unit and the body isn’t discovered for several days. By that time, the decomposing body is letting off a powerful stench, making the unit uninhabitable for a while.

The putrefying odor permeates everything in the dwelling, and the unit will require professional cleaning.

The smell can linger for a while, even after extensive cleaning, and you’re unlikely to find another tenant until it’s gone.

True story:

It’s a trying time for everyone when there’s a death of tenant. By knowing your role and acting in a professional manner, it will help smooth the way for all involved.

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9 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mark Rahill

    In the case of “Worst Case Scenario”, assuming it was a natural death, who is responsible for the costs of biohazard cleanup, carpet replacement, odor removal, etc.? We are facing that exact situation.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mark

      It could be the “estates responsibility”, but I personally think it’s best to do the cleanup quickly, at your own expense, and get a new tenant in there as soon as possible. Then, work it out with the relatives and executors of the estate for any unpaid debts.

      Now, if there is a personal property in the unit, you wouldn’t be able to throw that out without talking to the family first.

      • TruthSeeker

        It is horrible to throw the belongings of the deceased in a trash dumpster, especially valuables. Why not donate the items to Salvation Army or something. Even keeping items for yourself (but do not get caught if it is illegal) is far better than dumping nice items into a landfill. That sounds so terrible to me. That ought to be a crime.

    • Tal Alon

      as owner of restoration company I will suggest if this happen to rent Ozone machine. this will take care of the smell in a day or two. of course you have to clean up the unit first but if smell remain then rent or buy ozone machine and let it rug for 1-3 days demand on the sine of the house. also, work great if tenant smoke in the house and smell will not go away.

      good luck.

  • Sean

    I have a question –

    My mother recently passed away in her place of residence (apartment complex).

    We were able to get to the residence, remove everything within a week of death.

    As we went to pay her final rent, the office told us my deceased mother never submitted her 60 day notice, like really….. therefore I was to pay for those 60 days. $6K later for the month she hadnt yet paid due to her passing plus the 60 days.

    Is this legal? Is the contract not null and void after the death?

  • Mona sevic

    I live in Michigan and my mom passed .she rented a town home for almost 40 years. She was on a month to month rental agreement. Do we have a certain amount of time to get belongings out? And do we owe any rent?

  • Leanne Cale

    My son and his boyfriend had a lease in Illinois. The boyfriend killed himself. Is my son responsible for the remaining lease.

  • maureen donovan

    My lovely 77 year old male tenant died recently in hospital… A “friend” of his has demanded entry to my property to take personal items which he says were promised to him by our tenant – but has no written proof of this. There is also no Will. Any advice please?

  • Alisha

    My father lived alone and passed alone in his apartment. He was discovered two weeks later. No next of kin was notified until August. When we went to his apartment to collect his things the next day after notification, they claimed to have already disposed of everything in his apartment! What are our family’s rights and can anything be done about how they handled finding relatives and basically throwing his belongings out?

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