My tenant has passed away: what do I do?

No one wants to think about a tenant passing away. But, unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that a tenant could pass away while in a lease agreement with you. In these circumstances, it’s hard to know what to do. The ending of any life is a stressful event, so it pays to know the right things to do and steps to take in case you ever find yourself in this position.

1.      Take the initial steps

It’s likely that you will be contacted by the tenant’s executor or next of kin to notify you of the tenant’s passing. However, it’s also possible, particularly in apartments, that the landlord or property manager may be the one to discover the body. This is also more likely in houses with single tenants. If this is the case, notify the police. They will then notify the next of kin. Once the police are done in the property, make sure that it is secured and that any pets are accounted for and have someone to take care of them. You will need to provide access to the police, and then hand over the keys to the executor or next of kin.

2.      Contact your insurance provider

You will need to contact your insurance provider to see if your policy cover damage costs (such as what’s called ‘terminal cleaning’ and/or lost rent). This might seem callous, but at the end of the day you and your tenant were involved in a business transaction, and making sure that you don’t fall behind on your mortgage is your responsibility alone. This claim should be treated like any other claim. You will need to keep track of relevant dates and expenses (and provide receipts for those expenses). It’s worth asking your provider what documentation they need from you so that you can gather it as you go, so that you don’t lose track.

3.      Follow the rules

When you’re facing an emotional situation, or a situation that’s challenging for people, it’s easy to forget that this has all happened before. There are legal and procedural outlines for handling the death of a tenant, which are in place to protect you and the tenant’s estate. You cannot just declare the lease terminated, for example. You also cannot move the tenant’s property immediately either. Each state has its own rules on the appropriate time periods for ending a lease where the sole tenant has passed away. In Queensland:

When a sole tenant dies the tenancy ends:

  • 2 weeks after the tenant’s representative or relative gives the property manager/owner written notice of the end of the agreement due to the tenant’s death
  • 2 weeks after the property manager/owner gives the tenant’s representative or relative written notice of the end of the agreement due to the tenant’s death
  • the day agreed by the property manager/owner and the tenant’s representative or relative, or
  • the day decided by QCAT following an application by the property manager/owner

However, if none of this occurs, the tenancy agreement ends 1 month after the tenant’s death for both fixed and periodic agreements. Please note that the time frames vary state by state. If you aren’t in Queensland, check with your state authority.

4.      Communicate and know your obligations

It might feel right to give people their space, but the role of the executor is to be the legal point of contact for the deceased’s estate. As such, it’s crucial that you communicate openly with them or the next of kin. As a landlord, you are still entitled to rent, and it falls to the tenant’s estate to manage the usual vacating processes such as cleaning and gardening. The Residential Tenancies Act outlines how much time you must allow for the removal of goods and property. It’s important for you legally that all of the previous tenant’s property is removed by their representative and not you, where possible. Once the normal vacating process has been completed, the usual entitlements regarding the bond apply: you can use it to pay for damages or cleaning as required, but you must still allow for normal wear and tear. The bond will then be returned to the deceased’s estate.

5.      Follow the normal process to find a new tenant

It’s a fact of rentals that tenants come and go, so the normal process applies for finding a new tenant once the previous lease is finalised. Just make a detailed note of any incurred expenses, including dates and costs, as you’ll need those if you’re in touch with your insurance provider.

6.      Claim with your insurance

Chances are that somewhere in this process, you’ll wind up with costs that aren’t covered by the previous tenant’s estate. This is what you pay your insurance for, so don’t be shy contacting your provider if you’re facing losses. They should let you know your entitlements at the initial contact, so make sure to keep any documents they’ve mentioned.

Of course, it may not be that simple. If a co-tenant passes away, there is a separate process for amending lease agreements with any remaining tenants. Broadly speaking, however, the only thing that changes when a tenant passes away is managing the removal of property and contacting their estate, instead of dealing with the tenant directly.

Emotions are a fundamental part of human interactions, but ultimately your responsibilities to your tenants are legal — they have rights, and so do you. While it might feel callous to wonder how a tenant’s death may impact you, ultimately it’s better for all parties involved for a speedy lease resolution. By doing your part and knowing your obligations, you will make the process easier for everyone involved.

If you have any questions about renting or property management in Queensland, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us (MetroCity) via our contact page.