My Tenant Died and I Cried

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Have you ever had a tenant pass away on you?

First of all, I’m not a really big fan of the word tenant. It kind of has an inferior connotation to it (for example, landlord vs. tenant). Owners of property sometimes think that they’re better than renters. I have been a tenant where that’s been the case, so I prefer the word resident.

Over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve had several residents pass away on me.

One was a single mom with two adult sons, who had all lived in my rental for about eight years. Actually it didn’t end very well (eviction) after the remaining residents realized that they had no one left to mooch off of and were now responsible for paying the rent. All adults in any of my properties are required to be included in the lease.

Another situation was pretty sad where two, long time senior citizens, an elderly grandmother in her 90’s, and her divorced daughter, in her late 60s, lived together, when the older lady suddenly passed away. She had been an ideal resident of mine for over 10 years.  You could eat off of her floors.  But this was a case where the grandmother had most of the money, and the daughter was failing health, and she was forced to move in with her children.

As you can see, renting to seniors has advantages and disadvantages. My one friend avoids them – He’s afraid of them dying on him, or they won’t be able to afford any rent increases. My other buddy loves and prefers them, because he says they tend to stay longer with fewer headaches and tenant type of issues.

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A Greater Purpose

Recently, a couple weeks ago, I had a resident who passed away and it did make me cry, literally.  He was a newer arrival at my drug and alcohol recovery house, and this 24-year-old young man died from a heroin overdose.  As a brother, brother-in-law, uncle, and father of those fighting addiction, my son and myself had decided to open this recovery house (see “My Most Rewarding Rental” article on BiggerPockets) about 3 1/2 years ago, by converting my primary residence.  Although it’s by far the most rewarding rental property I have, we do on occasion lose someone (about one a year), and it’s usually been a past resident.  This time we lost a current one.

I guess what made me cry was the pain. The pain he must have been in to turn to heroin in the first place.  It’s something that’s tough for me to understand.  This young man grew up in a fine family, in a great neighborhood, had a college degree, and was a lacrosse star.  Then there’s the pain of those left behind—his sister and two brothers, other family and friends, and of course his parents.

Although this resident’s passing is heart wrenching, I don’t believe he died in vain.  There is a lesson here. There’s a lesson for the other residents and gentlemen who come through our doors—that there is a war going on out there.  I guess that’s why one of the local AA groups has the name, “Change or Die.”

Maybe it’s also a lesson for society—that we need to step up to the plate and try to do more. And, sometimes it’s about more than just cash flow. Maybe, it’s more about cash flow with purpose. I tried investing in a totally different way because of my son, and it turned out to be the most rewarding rental I’ve ever had. I don’t do it for the money, even though we’re compensated pretty well for what we do. That’s just not the primary focus.

Even though I had a rough weekend where someone passed away, it does validate what we’re doing. There is such a huge need and demand for places like recovery houses. Recently, we opened our second home, a Sober House, for men who are doing well, longer, and here they can continue to live with others in a sober environment. Now, my wife is toying with the idea of providing housing for unwed moms. So, who knows what might be coming next.

But really, it doesn’t matter what cause you get behind. If you get creative with your rentals, you could start helping people you never knew you could. So, is there a special cause out there for you? Is it possible that that there’s a bigger purpose that can be funded by your real estate investing?
Photo Credit: _Ganesha_

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR The Note Co., a holding company that manages several funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nationwide. Dave’s expertise is derived from over 30 years of residential and commercial real estate experience as a licensed Realtor, a real estate investor, and a fundraiser. As the latter, Dave has raised over $100 million in both notes and commercial real estate. In addition to his investments and role as CEO, Dave’s biggest passion is to teach others how to share, build, and preserve wealth. He authored Real Estate Note Investing, an introduction to the note investing business, helping investors enter the “other side” of the real estate business.


  1. I am sorry for the loss of this young man. And good for you for keeping the bigger picture, Dave. It’s great to hear about someone who is doing business in a way that helps people so directly. I think one of the reasons so many landlords get so “toughened” is that they are exposed to all sorts of people, and some of them in are in very painful places. It is easier to harden your heart than to be open to their hurt- besides, so often there is nothing you can do.
    But sometimes there is: So thanks for your efforts!

    • Hi Jean,

      Thank you. I do agree with you that it might at times feel easier that way. But, when you see someone come out of the pain better off or overcome something with great odds stacked against them, it really is inspiring.


  2. Programs like yours sure seem better ran to me than Federal Government ran programs. I’m sorry to hear about the sadness and despair part of your story but glad to hear about your values and priorities parts.

  3. Dave,

    I admire you for what you did with your primary residence. That is a dream of mine one day. Addiction runs rampant in my family and I have had to bury a few friends (no family members). Drugs in Florida are especially bad.

    Heroin is a nasty drug. I started choking up when I read your article. One has to be in incredible pain to subject themselves to shooting heroin on a daily basis.

    You are doing a great things. Individuals can grow out of addiction and lead socially accepted, wonderful lives. Every addict has it in them.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Hi Dan,

      Thank you for your kind words, and I really appreciate you sharing your story. I am sorry for your losses as well. I definitely encourage you to follow this dream you have–it really is a rewarding experience.


  4. Timothy Martin on

    Awesome article…I really like the idea of cash flow with purpose. It makes you think about the power landlords have to impact change in meaningful ways when you combine imagination, values and business acumen. I’ve got the utmost respect for you Dave. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Timothy,

      Thank you for your positive feedback! And, I completely agree. It really boils down to being more creative with your rentals because there really are so many possibilities and so many causes out there. I think many landlords, including myself, could continue to improve on this.


  5. La Nae Duchesneau on

    Can you expound on this idea a little more?
    For instance, how many rooms do the homes have, do you remodel them to fit more bedrooms, do you get state assistance or do these people simply rent a room?

    • Hi La Nae,

      Sure. Neither of these houses is state-run—they don’t have anything to do with the government. But, both houses are pretty different. We really didn’t do much renovation to the recovery house—just used the original rooms. We did fix up the basement, later on, because we wanted room to take in more residents. The recovery house has six bedrooms, three bathrooms, and then common areas include: the kitchen, dining room, living room, and two decks. We usually have approx. 12 residents at a time, and they do not necessarily get their own rooms. Some have to share rooms, but the rent does cover their bed, dresser, and use of the common areas. Meals are included as well. The house is furnished since the majority of the residents don’t bring much in the way of belongings.

      The sober house is different because the residents have been cleaner longer, meals aren’t supplied, and everyone gets their own bedroom. Usually, the residents have gone through a recovery house or are a few years clean, and they choose to continue to live in a sober environment. The sober house has four rooms and two baths, plus the common areas, but it only houses four residents.


  6. Hi Geoff,

    Our managers are groomed from within. My son is the main manager, who ultimately oversees, and we also have a house/resident manager, who lives in the house. We certainly have our fair share of rules, and residents are required to work during the day, have a sponsor, attend support programs (7 meetings a week for new residents), etc. One of the meetings is held in-house on Sundays. I also teach life skills at the recovery house on occasion. My son knows all of the sponsors in the area and when/where meetings are because it’s a big network.


  7. You are a good man Dave!

    I like to think I am a good person and I also feel I have a thick skin, I don’t know if I would be able to have a place like that. That is some heavy stuff to deal with.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    • Thank you, Shaun! It is heavy at times, but is very rewarding as well. It’s not for everyone, but there’s many different ways to reach out to the community and fight the good fight. Good luck out there!

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