“Til Death DON’T You Part”
Why Your Tenant’s Death Does Not Erase the Lease Agreement
It is a sad day whenever anyone passes away. It becomes especially tricky when you receive news of a death of one of your tenants. This news may take time to sink in. Friends and members of the deceased tenant’s family will come to their unit to collect their loved one’s things. This puts you in a tough position: while unfortunate, under normal circumstances the tenant’s recent death does not relieve the estate of their lease contract.
Even though the tenant has passed, the contract does not cease upon death; the property, debt, and contract either transfers to the estate and/or next of kin. This may not be a problem from a month-to-month setup (a death acts as a notice to vacate). However, long-term leases are still to be paid until the term of the lease expires.
While you still need payments for the remaining months on the lease, consider working with the family or executor of the tenant’s estate in looking for a solution that is helpful to both them and you. For example, it would be useful to look at re-renting out the unit as soon as possible, as the estate of the deceased most likely will not want to pay rent on an empty unit. You can work with the executor to look at carrying out a broken lease agreement. In this scenario, the executor pays rent until you are able to secure new tenants to move in.
Some additional steps to keep in mind when dealing with this matter:
- Establish line of communication with family/executor. While you will most likely get notice from the family or executor if the tenant died while in their presence, should you have the misfortune of discovering the tenant has passed while living in the property, you will need to notify whoever they left as an emergency contact. As stated before, you can work with the family and/or executor of the estate and create a schedule on vacating the unit of possessions in a timely manner. They will also need to be the ones to sign a “Release to the Rights of Possession” to protect yourself from any potential claims in the future.
- Secure the property. When you are notified of a tenant’s death, secure the property to make it safe from burglary. Lock all doors and windows. DO NOT TOUCH anything in the property other than what is necessary. Have a witness or video recording of your activities to protect yourself of any accusations. Consider changing the locks or adding barriers to prevent access by family or friends who have keys; always accompany friends and family in the deceased tenant’s unit. This is to protect yourself from any disputes and to keep a record of anything removed from these guests.
- Security Deposit. The deceased tenant’s security deposit can cover unpaid rent, damages to the property and cleaning costs. Send the deceased tenant’s executor any unused portions of the deposit, along with a list of deducted costs. If the security deposit does not cover these costs, you will have to petition the deceased tenant’s estate for additional compensation.
Whichever path you decide to take, be respectful of the deceased’s estate and family. This is a very difficult time for them; showing compassion regarding these legal matters will prove favorable for your property in the long run. Best case scenario, word of mouth for how you handled this tough situation could lead to new tenants. As an old 90s song once said “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”.