Dealing with death is never an easy, or enjoyable, experience, even if it is a tenant's death.
Although one should be hopeful that they would never have to deal with this situation, one should always be prepared.
In these cases, the process can be very complicated and messy. But the most important part is that it be done safely, legally, and especially respectfully.
If you are not sure about the steps to take if a tenant dies while leasing your rental property, this guide is for you.
Below, we will be going over the appropriate steps to take if you discover a tenant's death while still with the lease agreement.
In the first section, we will be going over the first steps that should be taken when a tenant's death is discovered.
First Steps After Discovering Tenant's Death
It may be difficult for unprepared landlords to know what to do when they discover a tenant's death. The first steps actually depend on how the landlord found out about the deceased tenant.
Below, we will be going over some of the most common scenarios of discovering the tenant death.
The most common way that the landlord finds out about a tenant's death is by a family member. If someone related to the tenant contacts the landlord about the death, it is important that the landlord receive written notice. Although it may be insensitive to request written confirmation, this is a legal matter and should be dealt with legally.
This written notice can be from either a next of kin, the deceased tenant's executor, or the estate. After receiving notice, the landlord can move on to contacting the deceased tenant's estate about any further actions.
Landlord Discovers Deceased Tenant in the Property
In the worst-case scenario, the landlord themselves discovers the deceased tenant within the tenant's property. When this happens, it is essential that the authorities be contacted immediately. Then, they will take care of contacting any family members and transporting the deceased.
If there is no next of kin, the authorities will direct the landlord on retaining a death certificate. After the death has been established, the property can be rented out once again.
In these cases, it is best if the landlord keeps contact with the property to a minimum until the legal process has been finalized. However, it is still a good idea to secure the property. This means locking any windows, doors, or other entryways. Sometimes, the landlord will also see to it that any pets are taken care of in the meantime. If the landlord does this, it is extremely important that everything is recorded or done in front of a witness.
Now that the property has been secured and the tenant's death has been established, there is one begging question - what happens to the lease agreement?
In the next section, we will be going over the different possibilities of what happens to lease agreements.
What is Done with the Lease Agreement After the Tenant's Death?
Determining what to do with the lease agreement after a tenant's death can be troublesome. Landlords typically want to be compassionate but still have unpaid rent, a security deposit, and the tenant's belongings.
For this reason, there are a couple of steps to take in order to resolve the issue with the lease.
Contact the Executor
The first thing that should always be done to correct a broken lease agreement is to contract the tenant's executor. The estate executor is the person appointed by the deceased tenant in their will that will take care of making sure all property and personal belongings are directed in the right way.
At this point, it is a good idea to look over state and local laws to decide on what to do next. In most states, the executor can be held accountable for any missing rent payments or any other terms of the rental agreement. The landlord also has the option to rent out the property to a subletter to free the executor from the obligation of paying rent.
However, in many cases, instead of having the executor cover unpaid rent, they simply agree to end the agreement. This depends on a variety of factors, like whether it is an apartment lease, how much is left of the term, and the deceased's estate's ability to pay.
Now, after coming to an agreement about the lease agreement, it is time to deal with the tenant's belongings.
Transporting the Tenant's Belongings
Following a tenant's death, it is probable that the property is filled with their personal belongings. Although the property can't be rented out in these conditions, it is important to consider the feelings of the deceased tenant's family during this time.
The executor and the landlord should set up a realistic timeline for removing all of the belongings. This time frame can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 30 days. Also, it is up to the landlord's discretion whether or not to charge rent for this time.
If there are no family members to take care of the belongings, the landlord should refer to laws regarding abandonment. Some laws require that the belongings be stored for a certain time before being sold at an auction. If no next of kin is found, the funds from these belongings may be returned to the state.
After the tenant's death, the landlord will most likely still have the deceased tenant's security deposit. This security deposit can be used to cover any damages past normal wear and tear. It can also be used to assist with moving costs for their personal belongings or cleaning costs. If any of the money remains, it should be sent to the executor, along with a list of things that the money was used for.
If the costs of moving and cleaning surpass the amount of the security deposit, the landlord has the right to petition the executor to compensate for the difference. Want to learn more about the state laws regarding this? Visit DoorLoop's Laws Page to quickly find information on your state and local laws.
Final Steps After the Tenant's Death
The final steps after the tenant's death in order to reclaim possession of the property is to have some forms signed. The most important of which is a "release to the rights of possession" form. This form allows you to take legal repossession of the property and rent it out to someone else.
Although there are many steps that must be taken when dealing with a tenant's death, the most important thing is to be patient. It is important to consider what their family is going through and be compassionate. At the end of the day, you should imagine if the situation was the other way around.
Ultimately, it'll be more important than ever to stay organized at a time like this. Contact all of the appropriate people to take over your tenant's possessions (or, if the possessions are unwanted or unclaimed after a reasonable period of time, dispose of them in the manner you see fit). Experiencing the death of a tenant can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but once all of the logistical matters have been dealt with, you should be free to move forward with your unit as you see fit.