One of the saddest and most complicated situations for a landlord is when a tenant passes away. You want to be supportive to the family, but you also have to maintain a business perspective. You need to understand your responsibilities and options if this should happen to you.
If the deceased is listed as the sole tenant on the lease, his or her estate is responsible for any expenses and outstanding rent. In some situations, the estate may be required to pay the rent up until the end of the term. In other instances, it may only be for the most recent month that the tenant lived in the property.
Some landlords only charge for the number of days the tenant’s belongings are in the unit while others may charge for the entire month. It’s important to have this stipulation in writing as part of the lease. Otherwise, you need to contact an attorney to help you determine the best course of action for receiving money owed based on state and local laws.
If you have insurance, you can file a claim. Many insurance policies cover loss of rent due to the death of a tenant. They may also cover other costs, such as cleaning up the unit if the tenant passed away inside. Sometimes, a unit can have a stigma attached to it when someone dies inside, and the insurance policy may cover loss of rent for several weeks after the unit becomes vacant.
The situation is different if you have two tenants in a property and one of them dies. The other person is still responsible for the rent if it was a joint tenancy with both parties sharing complete responsibility. In this case, the current tenant would have to pay the entire rent or find a sub-leaser, if the lease allowed for one.
Technically, the surviving tenant would be responsible for the rent until the end of the lease term unless a new renter is found. If the tenant wants to break the lease, he or she may have to pay a fine, forfeit the security deposit or pay out the rest of the rent, depending on the stipulations in the lease agreement.
Faced with this situation, many landlords work to find a new tenant to replace the current one, to allow him or her out of the lease with no penalties. Any disagreement about whether the current tenant or the deceased tenant’s estate is responsible would be between the two parties. As long as the lease stipulates that each tenant is equally responsible for the entire rent amount, you can require the surviving tenant to pay all of the rent.
Landlords often have to combine legal remedies with compassion in a situation like this. They can begin by contacting their insurance company to see what coverage they have when rent is lost due to a tenant’s death. The next step is working with the family members to arrive at a satisfactory situation. If no resolution is found and the tenant’s belongings are not removed, the landlord may have the right of possession for the outstanding rent. However, it’s important to work with an attorney and go through the courts to avoid being accused of theft.
Dealing with the loss of rent when a tenant dies is a complicated task, and one you should never try to figure out without solid legal counsel.
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