Till Death Do Us Part

Death_Save-the-DateMost landlords probably take for granted their tenants will remain in the home for as long as they both agree to do so, but what happens when a tenant dies with no other tenants on the lease? The death of a tenant is the one thing neither the tenant nor the landlord has any control over (assuming the landlord is not the cause of death). 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.  The following are a few points to remember, which will aid in this process.

  • Cleanup– This job may require the expertise of professional restoration, or cleaning companies (especially in the case of homicide or suicide).  Landlords should be careful not to cut corners here, as doing so could result in a potential lawsuit later.
  • Rent-Most tenants and landlords are under the assumption that when a tenant expires, the lease automatically ends, however that is not the case in many states.
  • Emergency contact information– It should be included directly in the lease. For liability reasons, only the person(s) named on tenant’s emergency contact information should be allowed to remove tenant’s belongings unless the tenant has an estate executor who is different from the emergency contact person.
  • No known relatives and no executor–  When this situation occurs, landlords are advised never to remove tenant’s belongings on their own without a court order to do so, and should check their local and state laws on the removal of tenant’s belongings to ensure compliance.
  • Rumors– Inevitably other tenants will hear of the death of a fellow tenant in a multiple dwelling unit.  Before that happens, it would be wise to send a brief letter to tenants informing them of the death and the fact that everything has been handled properly and in accordance with state or province laws.  However, if the situation has been remedied, there is no need to disclose information unless the death was somehow related to the condition of the property. This is an area where landlords will want to learn what their local and state laws require.

Secure the unit-The unit should be kept locked until all of the tenant’s belongings are out and the property has been thoroughly cleaned. The police should be called before anything is touched or removed. Even when a tenant has died of natural causes, the police should be asked to search and secure the area without any potential evidence being compromised by the landlord’s involvement.

Ideas from an article published January 3, 2014 by Edwina Davis EZ Landlord University.