As a landlord of a rental property, you may encounter your share of tenant issues -- delinquent or withheld rent, lease violations (like smoking indoors when that's prohibited), or excessive complaints. But here's one scenario that's really tough to encounter: a tenant dying mid-lease.
If a tenant of yours passes away unexpectedly, it's important to know what to do. Here are four steps you should take if you happen to land in this unfortunate situation.
1. Obtain written notice of your tenant's death
Before you can really make any moves as a landlord, you'll need to receive written notice of a tenant's death from that person's next of kin or the executor of your tenant's will or estate. If you happen to be the person to discover your tenant has passed, contact the police, who will be tasked with informing your tenant's next of kin.
2. Secure the property
Once you obtain official notice of a tenant's death, you have every right to secure the property that tenant was renting. You can enter the unit to make sure all doors and windows are locked, and you can even change the locks. However, be sure not to touch any of your tenant's belongings in the course of securing the property. In fact, you may want to document your actions on video so you can't be accused of theft.
3. Make arrangements for your tenant's belongings
Once your property is secure, you'll need to make arrangements with your tenant's next of kin or executor to remove his or her belongings. Be sure to set a deadline as to when those items should be collected. You may have different rules to follow in this regard depending on your state's laws, but generally, 30 days should suffice. Be prepared to accompany the person tasked with removing those items into your rental to ensure no property damage occurs.
4. Deal with the lease
The extent to which you'll be entitled to compensation for a broken lease will depend on the nature of that agreement. For a month-to-month arrangement, written notice of your tenant's death will serve as your 30 days' notice and bring your lease to an end, but your tenant's estate will be responsible for paying that last month's rent. For a longer lease, your tenant's estate is technically responsible for rent payments until that agreement expires. But it may be in your best interest to find a new tenant instead (that's also the more compassionate road to take). In that case, your tenant's estate would pay you rent until that unit is rented out again.
If your tenant caused damage to your property beyond standard wear and tear, you'll have the right to use that tenant's security deposit to cover necessary repairs. Otherwise, you'll need to return that money to your tenant's estate.
The bottom line
Having a tenant die mid-lease can be tragic and overwhelming. If that happens, be sure to go through the proper motions for both your own sake as well as that of your tenant's loved ones.