Dealing with death is tough in any aspect, especially when it affects your business. If a tenant passes away unexpectedly while living in your rental property, it can be a confusing process to navigate. For example, you may not know what to do with a deceased tenant’s belongings, how to end the lease agreement, and what to do with their security deposit. That said, landlords are responsible for handling the situation properly with respect and legal compliance. So, let’s go over some of the expectations to keep in mind while dealing with a deceased tenant’s property.
What Should Landlords Do When a Tenant Dies?
Many landlords don’t consider what happens when a tenant dies during their tenancy. However, when a tenant passes away in your rental property, there are certain steps that landlords must take. It’s important to know your rights as a landlord to keep yourself legally and financially protected. So, what is the first step in handling a tenant’s death? Read on as we go over landlord responsibilities while dealing with a deceased tenant.
- Wait for Official Written Notification
- Secure the Property
- Coordinate With the Tenant’s Executor
- What Happens With the Lease Agreement?
- Return Security Deposit
- Prepare for the Next Tenancy
Wait for Official Written Notification
Before a landlord can take any action, they must wait for an official written notice of death. The notice may come from the tenant’s next of kin or the executor of the tenant’s estate. This documentation is vital in preparing your property for another tenant.
If you are the one to discover that your tenant has died, call the police immediately. Then, they can work to inform the tenant’s next of kin or give you direction on how to receive a death certificate if the tenant does not have a next of kin.
Secure the Property
Once you’ve received written notification of a deceased tenant, the next step is to secure the property. But what does this mean? First, landlords need to protect the deceased tenant’s belongings by making sure doors and windows are locked. Similarly, if the tenant has any pets, make sure they are properly cared for. If your tenant lived alone, it might also be wise to change the locks to avoid friends or family entering the property if they have extra keys.
During this process, it’s extremely important that landlords do not touch any of the deceased tenant’s property. To avoid any possibility of legal trouble or theft accusations, consider bringing a witness along or video recording your actions while inside the property.
Coordinate With the Tenant’s Executor
Once the property is secure, the next step is to coordinate with your deceased tenant’s executor or next of kin. You’ll want to work with these individuals to remove your deceased tenant’s property during this process.
Landlords must understand that they may not remove tenant property without arranging with the tenant’s executor or next of kin. Losing a family member or friend is not easy, so being compassionate and considerate during this time is another aspect for landlords to keep in mind.
What Happens With the Lease Agreement?
Once you’ve determined what will happen with your deceased tenant’s belongings, the next step is to figure out the lease agreement. Landlords may think that the lease is automatically over when a tenant dies, but that’s not necessarily true. It ultimately depends on the terms set in the lease agreement.
Suppose the tenant signs a month-to-month lease, their death with serve as a 30-day notice of lease termination. In this case, the tenant’s estate or next of kin is responsible for paying the last month of rent.
For a longer agreement, the tenant’s executor or family is still responsible for paying rent until the lease ends. However, landlords could also consider working with the family to end the lease early and find a new tenant for occupying the unit. After all, most people don’t want to continue paying for an empty unit if they don’t have to.
Return Security Deposit
Once you’ve figured out when and how the lease will end, you may be wondering— what happens with the security deposit? Some landlords think that they may keep the security deposit since the tenant has passed. However, this is untrue. Landlords must handle the security deposit with a deceased tenant as they would with anyone else.
That said, landlords can use the deposit for any property damage that the tenant caused beyond normal wear and tear. When there is no rental property damage and the full security deposit is available, it should go directly to the tenant’s estate or next of kin.
If damages were present in the property, it’s in the landlord’s best interest to create an itemized list of those damages and security deposit deductions to cover them. If the security deposit doesn’t cover all the repairs in the property, landlords must work with the family or executor to cover the remaining costs.
Prepare for the Next Tenancy
Once all the obligations with the previous lease and security deposit have been taken care of, landlords can start to work towards securing a new tenant. The unit should be thoroughly cleaned and cleared of any previous tenant’s property before another renter moves in.
Can Landlords Legally Remove Deceased Tenant’s Belongings?
As we stated above, working with a tenant’s executor or next of kin is essential in removing a deceased tenant’s belongings. Landlords should not touch, remove, or dispose of any tenant property without their family or executor’s written consent.
Since landlords may not remove the belongings, they must work with the tenant’s estate or family to set deadlines for clearing out the unit. If your tenant does not have an estate or available family to remove the items, landlords should check with state and local laws to determine the next step.
If a tenant does not have an estate or family to take care of their belongings in Maryland, landlords must file an eviction summary for the deceased tenant. Now, this situation is quite rare, so it’s likely not a common course of action for landlords. But, either way, landlords may not remove tenant property until the court rules in favor of the eviction.
Landlord Liability for Tenant Belongings
If a landlord does tamper with or remove a deceased tenant’s belongings, it could end in legal trouble. Just like any other tenant, you may not move their items without a written agreement to do so. That said, if landlords take it upon themselves to remove a deceased tenant’s property without permission from the estate or family, the family has every right to take legal action.
Should You Let Family Members Into the Unit?
In the unfortunate circumstance where a tenant passes away, the family will likely want to visit the property and go through the tenant’s belongings. However, it’s important to recognize that not everyone has the best intentions as a landlord.
So, before you allow anyone else to enter the unit, it’s wise to check the emergency contacts listed for the tenant. Similarly, you’ll want to check with the estate executor and verify family members before allowing them to enter the property.
What’s the Best Way to Handle a Tenant Death?
Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to navigate the process of a deceased tenant. However, landlords can do a few things to make it a little easier. For example, hiring a property management team can alleviate some of the stress of handling a deceased tenant’s lease agreement.
At Bay Property Management Group, we can help you stay within legal compliance while also assisting with maintenance, eviction filings, and rent collection. With a team of experts by your side, you can feel better about navigating the difficult process of a tenant death while also managing your other properties.
If you are looking for rental management services in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, or Washington D.C., don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn about our comprehensive property management services.