A few months ago, one of our best tenants passed away unexpectedly. She was a dear, sweet, and feisty woman who had been with us from the beginning of our landlording journey. When she passed away, not only were we heartbroken, but we were unsure what our responsibilities were concerning the rental and her house full of personal property. So, we did some research on how we should proceed. What we found out was that there is a legal process the landlord must follow in order to reclaim their property. It’s important that you research your state’s particular laws in the event you are faced with the death of the tenant; however, the following is how a landlord in Washington State currently handles this type of situation.
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What if the Tenant Passes Away in Your Property?
If a tenant passes away at the residence itself, the police and coroner will secure the home, conduct an investigation if necessary, remove the body, and notify relatives. If there are other tenants still in the home, the landlord and remaining tenants can resume their arrangement as before. The deceased tenant’s belongings become the responsibility of the remaining tenants, and the landlord does not need to get involved.
If the deceased tenant is the only tenant and they passed away at some other location, the landlord should secure the premises and attempt to get in contact with the executor of the estate since the rental becomes the estate’s responsibility at this point. The landlord should not give anyone access to the tenant’s personal belongings unless they are the executor.
5 Steps to Take if No Executor Steps Forward
Should no executor be forthcoming, once the rent is in default, the landlord may proceed exactly as if the house were abandoned by:
- Posting notice
- Changing the locks and taking immediate possession
- Itemizing and storing the tenant’s belongings until the required amount of time has passed
- Selling, disposing of, or donating (to family or charity) the tenant’s property after the required amount of time has passed, and
- Setting aside any overages from the sale after paying the deceased tenant’s debts to the landlord (for rent, storage of the tenant’s be- longings, and any other costs incurred by the landlord as a result of the tenant’s demise) for one year should an executor come forward during the time period.
Once again, this is how a death of a tenant is handled in Washington. The specific legal process in your area is likely different. The death of a tenant is a sensitive subject and needs to be handled very carefully to avoid mistakes that put the landlord in a vulnerable position. The last thing any landlord wants in this type of situation is a lawsuit from the deceased tenant’s family. The point of this section is simply to make you aware that you need to do your research in this type of situation to be sure you are proceeding legally and to reclaim your property as quickly as possible.
[This article is an excerpt from Brandon Turner’s The Book on Managing Rental Properties. Get the full book here!]
Landlords: Have you ever dealt with the death of a tenant? How did you handle it, and did any issues arise during this process?
Let me know your experiences with a comment!