What Happens To An Apartment Lease When Someone Dies?

The death of a tenant is a sensitive topic but one that we need to address nonetheless.

When this unfortunate event occurs, what happens to the lease? Does it end automatically?

The simple answer is No.

Each state has its unique laws that dictate what should happen to the lease after a tenant dies.

But, generally, the death of a tenant does not result in the termination of the lease.

What Becomes of the Lease When Tenant Dies?

After a tenant dies, their financial obligations fall into the hands of the estate. These include rent and the cost of damages.

In a month-to-month agreement, the lease expires within 30 days. That could be 30 days after the executor provides notice of the death or 30 days after the last rent payment, depending on the state.

On the other hand, the lease extends until the expiry date for long-term agreements.

But upon request, some landlords are gracious enough to consent to a termination.

Many are usually eager to re-rent the apartments as soon as possible. However, not all may be willing to take the compassion route unless it makes financial sense to do so.

The Tenant Left No Will, Now What?

In cases where the tenant has left no will, the court can decide whether a family member can serve as an estate administrator.

Such a person could be held liable for rent payments during the remainder of the lease period.

They also have a right to enter the property and dispose of the tenant’s belongings.

Is Official Notification a Must?

The executor or next of kin should notify the landlord about the death in writing.

They should make sure to include their name and contact information.

This notice will be essential if the landlord hopes to kick start the process of re-renting the property legally.

It will also help them recoup any financial losses incurred during the transition period.

It is advisable to send the notice through certified mail. This way, the executor can ensure there’s a record of the landlord receiving it.

Who Should Pay the Rent?

According to most state laws, the deceased’s estate should take over the financial obligations until the lease expires. This includes paying rent for the remaining period.

Additionally, the estate is also responsible for covering any damage done to the property. However, the landlord can also use the security deposit to cover such costs.

Although the estate should pay until the lease expires, they can request for termination through an early lease termination letter.

Many landlords would be willing to listen owing to the unique situation.

Therefore, if the deceased lived in a state that requires renters to fulfill all financial obligations no matter what, the next of kin should consider asking for grace.

You never know; perhaps the landlord will agree to end the lease in the hope of increasing the rent. It would make financial sense for them in such a case.

Can a Relative Take Over the Lease?

Although the estate can occupy the property, it can only do so legally, not physically. The administrator can neither move in nor allow someone else to do so.

However, the law makes exceptions in some cases. For instance, a relative already living with the tenant before their demise can stay until the lease expires.

Otherwise, whether a surviving relative can take over the lease or not is up to the landlord’s discretion.

But if the next of kin are allowed to inherit the lease, they are still subject to the same qualifying standard as the original tenant.

In rare instances, the state laws could permit the estate to assign the lease to a subletter. Doing this will free them from paying rent for the remaining period.

For example, the state of New York allows the estate to sublet under the state’s real property law. However, none of that is possible without the landlord’s consent.

What About the Tenant’s Belongings?

Once the tenant dies, it is upon the landlord to secure the property until it is formally vacated.

They should make sure all the doors and windows are locked to protect the belongings.

As a rule, they should also change the locks in case someone else other than the tenant had a key. Otherwise, they would have to answer for any missing or damaged property.

The landlord should ensure not to touch anything unless it is necessary. In addition, they should also keep an inventory of everything that is taken from the property.

If they have to go in, it is advisable to seek the company of a witness. Alternatively, they can record everything through their smartphones.

Additionally, anyone who shows up at the property should be ready to provide identification documents. They should also present a photo ID to ascertain they have the right to access the property.

The best thing is to establish a relationship with the next of kin or executor and surrender the keys to them.

Apart from these, nobody else should access the property in the landlord’s absence.

What Happens to Unclaimed Property?

Once the lease expires, the landlord should give the executor or the next of kin time to evacuate. Usually, three weeks to 30 days is a reasonable time frame.

If there is no next of kin, each state has its own laws on how to deal with unclaimed tenant property. It is upon the landlord to familiarize themselves with theirs.

In most states, the landlord may need to hold on to the belongings for a specified period. Afterward, they may dispose of it just like they would an abandoned property.

For instance, the landlord can sell the possessions at an auction. In many cases, they get to keep the amount raised.

Release to the Rights of Possession

Once the executor or next of kin vacates the property, it is not yet ready for re-renting.

At least not until they sign the “release to the rights of possession” form.

This form states that the executor has removed all personal belongings from the property. It also confirms that the apartment has been vacated.

What Happens to the Security Deposit?

Most leases require the tenant to pay a security deposit beforehand.

Upon expiry, the landlord can use this money to cover unpaid rent, cleaning, and damage that exceeds normal wear and tear.

In instances where the rent or damage exceeds the security deposit, the estate should pay the balance. It is upon the landlord to petition the estate for the same.

Any unused portion of the deposit after deductions goes to the executor. The landlord should make sure to provide an itemized list of the deductions together with the unused funds.

In Summary

Each state has its own laws that dictate what happens to a lease when a tenant dies. But generally, the death of the tenant does not make the lease void.

Instead, any unfulfilled financial obligations pass on to the estate or next of kin. That includes rent for the remainder of the lease period.

Both the executor and landlord have rights and responsibilities following a tenant’s demise.

Each party should familiarize themselves with the state laws to avoid legal disputes and potential financial losses.

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