What Do You Do if Your Tenant Dies?

by | BiggerPockets.com

Hey there BP! Unfortunately, death is a part of life, and sometimes it’s a part of being a landlord. If you are a landlord for long enough, odds are you will have to deal with a tenant passing away while in a lease at one of your properties. We’ve had it happen several times. I can tell you that it’s an odd space to be in: You’ll have to deal with the human side of it when working with the tenant’s heirs, but you’ll also have to do what’s right for your company. There are also state-specific laws that you’ll need to abide by in these circumstances.

Related: 6 Not-So-Obvious Tips From Experienced Landlords

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What to Expect

In today’s video, I talk about how to straddle the human and business sides of things. I discuss how best to prepare yourself for these types of occurrences (and other emergencies) up front when you sign a lease with your tenant. I also identify how to handle the tenant’s relatives — who may request to access the unit and the tenant’s possessions — because there are rules dictating who can have access to the space. Lastly, I  address who is responsible for the rent and removal of the tenant’s possessions.

Thanks for watching and have a great and profitable week!!

Related: 23 Totally Awesome Life Hacks for Landlords (To Save You Time, Stress, and Money!)

Once you watch the video, be sure to leave a comment here on BP! Have you ever had one of your tenants pass away ? How did you find out? And how did you deal with it? I would also love to hear about different state laws, as I understand they are very different in dealing with the death of a tenant. 

About Author

Matt Faircloth

In 2005, Matt founded The DeRosa Group along with his wife, Elizabeth. At the time, the two person company owned and managed two assets – a single family home and a duplex. Over the last nine years, they have grown the company to a 12 person team owning and managing over five million dollars in residential and commercial assets throughout the central NJ and Philadelphia area.

One of DeRosa’s mantras is “to make money while making a difference.”


    • Matt Faircloth

      Hey Steve,

      Our lease has a clause about death in it. It references what happens if the tenant dies and mostly refers to the executor of the estate and their responsibilities to get the security deposit returned.
      You can consult with a local attorney in your area to have a clause like this drafted for your lease, one that abides by the local laws around these things.

  1. Tom Geiger

    I had a couple as a 25 year tenant in a single family home. At the ten year mark of the occupancy, the husband died. The wife was beside herself and was worried I was going to evict her. She fell several months behind on the rent. I kept in touch but never threatened action.

    Since most landlords experience a turnover in their units, they should plan to have some lapses in income between tenants. I plan for that and once the wife got back on her feet and started paying rent again, I judged her as someone who wouldn’t take advantage and forgave the three months back rent. Note that I had a good ten year run with this tenant without a single missed month of rent, a trouble free tenant who would do minor repairs themselves.

    My judgement to save this ten year tenancy paid off. She was extremely thankful and became a very loyal tenant for 15 more years. She paid the rent every month on time and asked little from me. At the 25 year mark, her son called me to say his mother was in the hospital and he was going to take her into his home. Yes, I had contact information for this tenant, I knew this son since he was a kid.

    He asked for time to empty out the house, there was a lot of stuff from that 25 year occupancy. The husband had owned a business and most of the business materials were still in the shed and garage which were packed tight. These were working class people who struggled most of their lives. I knew she had no money, and he was paying to empty the house on his own dime, so I gave the son a month to vacate rent free. I felt it was the right thing to do.

    All in all I had a 25 year tenancy and lost a budgeted 4 months rent. I felt that was a pretty good record. They were a low maintenance tenant, always respectful and made owning the property easy for me. So I rocked with them through their life events. During this 25 year period, I was able to pay off the mortgage, so in essence this couple bought me a house. And you can’t knock that!

    In the end, the house needed a renovation after 25 years with a single tenant. I was moving out of state at that time and my two daughters in their 20s needed a place to live, so I renovated it to their liking and they’ve lived there ever since.

    • Matt Faircloth

      Hey Tom,

      What a great story! I think that you did a great service to your tenants in this situation and were rewarded with a free and clear house. The key is that you saw the human side of the situation but didn’t compromise too much of your companies profits. If you had evicted the tenant when the first spouse passed, you would have certainly had more vacancy than you did over the last 25 years.
      Thanks again for sharing!

  2. margie kohlhaas

    Thanks – very informative video. What is the best way to find out about executors? Many tenants don’t have wills or attorneys so I’m wondering what to do in the case that there may be no executor. My brother had a tenant pass away in one of his units. She was a diabetic and it wasn’t reported to him for several weeks. He hired professional cleaners but the rental still had the smell of death and ultimately forced the sale of the property. Is there a tried and true method for cleanup? Does it need to be disclosed to new tenants if one has formerly died in the unit?

    • Matt Faircloth

      Hey Margie,
      I would make sure that you have emergency contact info for each tenant and call that contact if the tenant passes away. Odds are those people would know who the executor is.
      With regards to your question on disclosing what happened in a unit to a new tenant, I don’t believe you have to disclose these things. We had a tenant die by suicide in the basement of the house, I asked my attorney if we needed to disclose this, he told me it wasn’t necessary.

  3. We have experienced a death in our rental business as well- My advice would be to try to avoid having to deal with all of the legal red tape as much as you can. We gave the family time to have services- ect- but after a few weeks- I contacted the most responsible family member and arranged an agreement between us to allow removal of the deceased items out of the unit so we could continue our business operations. We then boxed up the items and arranged to have them shipped to an out of town location where the heirs resided . It was somewhat expensive and time consuming but in retrospect much cheaper than following the typical guidelines one would normally have to follow.

  4. Gregg Reinbold

    My property manager rented one of my apartments to a couple while I was in Afghanistan. The couple was not married. The boyfriend committed suicide in the apartment. My insurance did not cover the cost of hiring a professional cleaner. Since the couple was not married I requested that the girlfriend’s lawyer be present during clean-up, so they could decide what personal property could be recovered and what needed to be deposed of. Just more things to think about 1) Insurance coverage to cover the cost of clean-up in a violet death. 2) Does the co-renter (if not married) have access to the apartment after the death, or do they need to wait for the executor from victims family before they can re-enter their own apartment.

    • Matt Faircloth

      Hey Gregg,
      Wow, that’s a crazy story! Thanks for sharing it.
      Thanks for reminding me about insurance, as I didn’t mention that in the video. We do require all our tenants have renters insurance which covers damage caused by the tenant to the unit. I would bet that violent death would be included. The second tenant is on the lease also so I would say that she has access also. I think you made a good move getting her lawyer involved.
      I hope that things settled down from this incident!

  5. When I have problems that I am unfamiliar with I pick up the phone and call the Utah Apartment Association. They deal with these issues all the time and they know the state laws. They are great. I am a happy member of the Association.
    I had a tenant pass away this year. It was no fun, but the Association walked me through the process and kept me on the right side of the law.

  6. Teri Croft

    I have been a landlord for 40 years and have had three tenants die in their apartments during that time.
    The first was a suicide (hanging) while he was tending the children (they were asleep). The live-in girlfriend was out when this happened and she discovered him when she returned. When she called me the next morning she told me she did not want to stay int the apartment so I let her break the lease immediately with no repercussions (I felt she had been through enough).
    The second was a “recovered” alcoholic who evidently fell of the wagon and died as a result of drinking. He had been a good tenant for a couple of years. He was late on rent for a couple of months and then the next month he missed rent entirely and did not respond to my notice. About this time another tenant called to tell me she had not seen him in a few days so my husband and I went to check on him. I discovered him sitting naked at the bottom of the stairs in an unheated locked basement that he had broken into (it was February- we are located in a snowy winter climate). Because I had found a corpse we had to call the police and they treated it as a possible crime scene. His apartment had been completely trashed, toilet plugged up, dirty dishes and rotting food everywhere, feces on the floor and wall in some places. His family would not enter the place and we had to have a disaster cleanup company come to clean and sterilize the unit. Everything was repainted and we had all the flooring replaced.
    The third was a situation where three brother (ages 45-60) lived together. One of the brothers passed away from some long-standing ill health problems. The family informed us of his passing only after the funeral was over. The other two brothers still live in the unit.
    I do collect next of kin information from all of my tenants but I have no clause about a death in my lease. I can see where I have been fortunate I did not run into legal problems in any of these situations and that I need to add that type of clause. Thanks for the info!

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