What Happens When a Tenant Dies in a Rental Property?

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What happens when a tenant dies in a rental property? There are essential steps a landlord must follow to be protected both legally and financially. While laws may vary from state to state, and you should always check your local and state laws in the unfortunate event that you are presented with a tenant death, below we have outlined guidelines landlords can take to protect themselves and skillfully and effectively move past it. 

Get Written Notification 

The most important first step when dealing with a tenant passing, is getting written notification of the death. A landlord will usually find out one of two ways – either from a family member or from the executor of the tenant’s estate. This written notification is essential to legally begin the process of ending the lease, lawfully removing the tenant’s possessions, and preparing the property for the next renter. If the landlord is the one who discovers the death. Immediately call the police, as well as the emergency contact listed by the tenant. Secure the rental and do not move anything or take anything from the unit. Wait for the authorities and the emergency contact to arrive. Again, check your local and state laws regarding this kind of event, and be prepared ahead of time if the occasion should arise. The bulk of the information below will detail how to lawfully regain the property after written notification is received. 

Secure the Property 

After the landlord has received written notification, the next step is to secure the property. Lock all the windows and doors to avoid any theft. If they lived alone, the landlord may want to consider changing the locks to avoid people entering the property without prior knowledge. Once the next of kin or executor of the estate has officially been handed over the keys, the landlord is not responsible for securing the tenant’s belongings. If there is no next of kin or estate executor follow your local and state laws regarding abandoned tenant property. 

Prepare for the Next Tenancy 

The next step is to begin preparing for the next tenancy. There are multiple steps that need to be taken here: 

What Happens to the Lease if a Tenant Passes Away?  

To legally and lawfully move on, the landlord will need to end or transition the lease. When dealing with the next of kin or estate executor, be sure to have compassion for their situation, while respectively and lawfully working to regain the property. Below are two common lease options and the appropriate next steps. 

  • Month-to-Month Lease – The tenant’s death will act as the 30-day notice. Notify the next of kin or executor of the date that the lease will end, and coordinate with them regarding removing possessions, cleaning, transitioning the property, and all deadlines. 
  • Long Term Lease– If the deceased tenant had a long-term lease, the lease does not end automatically when the tenant passes. The lease will transition to the next of kin or the estate executor. In most cases, the next of kin/executor will want to end the lease.  It is advisable to work with them to end the lease and let them know that you will treat the death as a broken lease agreement and that they next of kin/estate is responsible for the full rent amount until the unit is re-rented. 

What to do with a Tenant’s Belongings When They Pass Away?

A landlord cannot remove the belongings of the deceased tenant, they will need to work with the family or executor to coordinate getting them removed. Work with them and set timelines and deadlines to help move the process along. If the tenant was on a month-to-month lease and the lease will be ending soon, set more appropriate timelines, usually two to three weeks to help remove the property so the re-renting process can begin. If the tenant had a long-term lease agreement, work with the next of kin/executor to establish reasonable timelines for the removal of the tenant’s property. Rent is still required to be paid while the property removal and tenant search are being conducted if both parties have decided to treat the death as a broken lease. 

If there isn’t a next of kin, follow your local and state laws regarding abandoned tenant property. You may be required to hold it for a current amount of time, then sell it at auction and return the money to the state. 

What do you do with the Security Deposit if a Tenant Passes Away? 

The security deposit may be used for unpaid rent, wear and tear beyond the normal amount, and cleaning fees. Be sure to make an itemized list of all deductions and give that to the next of kin or estate executor when the remainder is given back. Here is a sample letter to a tenant for damages that can be used when deducting items from the security deposit. If the fees exceed the deposit, the landlord will need to petition the tenant’s estate for compensation.  

Dealing with a tenant passing is never an ideal situation. Your top priority as a landlord is to make sure you are protected legally by following all local and state laws regarding a tenant’s death. This can help ease the financial impacts, as well as allowing you to find a new tenant as quickly as possible. If there are next of kin, be as compassionate as possible, work with the family to remove belongings and get the rental returned to a place where it can lawfully be turned back over to you. When you are ready to find a new tenant be sure to complete a thorough tenant screening and online rental application. 

What to if a tenant dies in a rental FAQS

What is the first thing to do if a tenant passes away? 

Get written notification of a tenant’s death and be sure to secure the property to protect it from potential theft. Establish a relationship with the next of kin or executor, so you can surrender the keys and let them manage the property.

If the tenant lived alone, make sure to accompany any person requesting access to the property when entering. Keep an inventory of anything that was removed. 

Does a tenant’s death void the lease agreement? 

The lease type will determine the end date. If it was a month-to-month lease, the death will serve as a 30-day notice. If it was a long-term lease, it will transfer to the next of kin/estate executor. 

What should you do with a tenant’s belongings if they pass away in your rental? 

A landlord can’t remove the belongings of a deceased tenant without first working with the next of kin/estate executor. If neither of those exists, check your local and state laws to see how to handle a tenant’s abandoned property. 

What should you do with a deceased tenant’s security deposit? 

The security deposit can be used for unpaid rent, damages beyond normal wear and tear, and cleaning fees. The remainder, with an itemized list, should be returned to the next of kin/estate executor. 

Disclaimer: TurboTenant, Inc does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state and federal laws and consult legal counsel should questions aris

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Sarah is the Director of Content and SEO at TurboTenant where she leads a team of experts to provide valuable resources to help landlords and renters. With over 10 years of experience writing in various industries, she has been featured in many top tier publications and is an expert in the real estate tech space as well as the property management industry.

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