When it comes to rental ownership, learning how to mitigate risk and absolve damage is critical to running a successful property. However, sometimes tragedy strikes, regardless of how prepared you are. Though disheartening, tenants occasionally die in rental properties, and it’s up to a responsible landlord to properly and delicately navigate a difficult situation.
Between local regulations, law enforcement, and remaining family, treating a tenet’s passing with the utmost care is essential. Plus, depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident, landlords may need to invest in professional homicide cleanup before opening the property to new tenants.
Keep reading for a few tips on handling a tenant passing away on your property.
Ask for a written death notification
Landlords usually learn about tenant deaths through a representative or a loved one. Regardless of how you became aware of the tragedy, you’ll want a written notice so you can move forward with critical steps and settle any financial hurdles.
However, if you find the body on your rental property, immediately call the police. The authorities will contact the family and help you get the necessary paperwork. Additionally, if you have an attorney, alert them of the situation.
Close the property
One of the most essential details when navigating a death on your rental property is keeping the doors and windows locked at all times. If you need to restrict or gain access, consider hiring a locksmith to help change the locks. Additionally, if the tenant has pets, notify your local animal shelter or remaining family members to ensure they receive proper care.
When walking through the property, try not to disturb any belongings to ensure authorities have a clean slate, taking a witness or recording details each time you enter.
Handle the lease
After the tenant dies, their responsibilities move to the next of kin or the tenant’s estate. Generally, the lease continues after death, meaning a loved one must take appropriate steps to cancel the contract.
The state may allow you to request unpaid rent for the outstanding lease term, but many landlords end the lease and allow the family to grieve without worrying about monthly rental payments.
Set a time to remove the belongings
Landlords cannot remove the tenant’s belongings without approval from the family or the executor of the will. A compassionate landlord works with the family to arrange a time, usually between two to four weeks after the death. Though up to each individual case, landlords can hold the family responsible for rent payments while the belongings are in the unit.
If the tenant doesn’t have remaining family members, state laws dictate how to remove abandoned property after a tenant’s death. Often, the regulations involve storing the property for a set period, then selling the property at an auction.
Obtain releases from next of kin
After the property is emptied and cleaned, the next step is requesting releases from the tenant’s family. After you receive the go-ahead from the family in writing, you can re-rent the property. States and local government websites have release forms readily available.
Take care of the security deposit
The tenant’s security deposit can cover damages, cleaning costs, unpaid rent, and utilities. You should send any remaining money to the family or executor along with a list of expenses taken from the security deposit. If the costs exceed the security deposit, you can ask the family or executor to cover the balance.
Knowing what to do if a tragedy occurs in your rental property can protect you from legal complications and reduce your overhead expenses. Landlords need to walk a fine line between being compassionate and professional as they show respect to the next of kin while protecting their property.