Dealing with a death is always hard. When the person who has passed is a tenant of yours, the stakes may seem even higher. Perhaps you had a personal relationship with the tenant. Your emotions may be running high, and you might not know what to do first.
While you may be managing your own emotions of shock, grief, and sadness, you need to deal with the business side of this circumstance as well. You should take the time to retain legal counsel to help you navigate local laws and any needs specific to your situation. Be sure to pull out your lease and review it. Your lease may have contained a clause to address a tenant death. If so, that information will guide your next steps. As you seek legal counsel, have the lease information at your fingertips.
When there are other tenants remaining
If there are additional people on the lease, make sure you understand their standing with regard to the lease term. Be in communication with these remaining tenants to ensure that you are taking a thoughtful approach, while staying on the right side of the law.
In some cases, a tenant may have legal standing to break the lease agreement upon the death of their roommate. If so, certain additional laws may govern how this occurs. While the remaining tenants are most likely still responsible for the full rent amount each month, the question is whether they can afford it. Especially in cases where co-tenants are related, the remaining tenant or tenants may be heir to the deceased tenant’s assets. Perhaps these will be enough to remain in your rental, but it is quite possible that they will not be able to access those funds up front. It is not unheard of for a roommate to take legal action to compel a roommate’s estate to pay the deceased’s share remaining rental term, but this action may or may not be successful. In any case, it will likely take a long time to work through the courts.
Considering all of these factors, be realistic about their ability to remain in the rental unit. If the tenants are unable to remain in the unit, your goal is to move the tenants out using a mix of sympathy and efficiency. Because of their recent loss, you may wish to help the tenants to make their arrangements to move. You should codify the termination of the lease agreement and the agreed move out date in writing.
Each situation is different, so evaluate any remaining tenants by looking at the lease, the laws, and the individual situation. Consider the tenant who lost her military husband in the line of duty. She ended up renting the same property for another two years before she bought a house. Conversely, another landlord worked with the family and helped them to move out within 30 days so they didn’t owe another rent payment.
When the deceased was the sole tenant
When the tenant who has passed away was the sole tenant in your rental, the situation can become more complicated. This is where legal counsel can be even more critical. There will be issues where you will need to be in touch with the next of kin, to know how to handle the security deposit and any damages that may have occurred, and many other details that would benefit from expert advice.
Put it in writing
In this emotionally charged environment dealing with a death, it is critical to put everything that you decide on in writing. Reaching an understanding with the remaining tenants or next of kin is part of the battle, but by writing it all down you will be doing everyone a favor. You and the remaining tenants or next of kin will have a document to refer to as a reminder of exactly what details you put together during a trying and stressful time.
**Please note: As always, this article should not be taken as legal advice. Rather, we hope to provide you with a primer of some considerations to help you to navigate this situation. In the event that your tenant passes away, you would be wise to retain counsel to deal with this difficult situation.**