One of the saddest situations you’ll deal with as a property owner or landlord is the passing of a tenant. This occurrence is a tragedy on a personal level, and from an operational standpoint, it can become quite complicated. The most confusing circumstance is when that tenant was living alone, without a roommate or a spouse who can be of assistance. When that individual passes away, you will be left to determine the status of your tenant’s rental contract.
California law addresses this issue, and the status of the rental contract will often depend upon the terms of the contract you had in place at the time of death. If the tenant had been renting on a month- to-month basis, the tenancy terminates 30 days after the date the rent was last paid. That can make things complicated. For example, imagine that your tenant last paid rent on May 1st, and passed away on May 29th. By statute, that means in two days, your tenant’s contract is ended.
Alternately, if your tenant is on a fixed-term lease, the terms continue and the contract remains in effect. However, you have a “duty to mitigate damages:” you must do what you can to re-rent that property, just like you would need to if a tenant were attempting to break a lease. You are required to attempt to find a qualified replacement tenant to live at the property for the remainder of the contract. So, if it’s May 29th, but the deceased tenant’s contract that does not end until the end of December, you still have an obligation to “turn” the property, market it and attempt to get it rented as quickly as possible. You cannot simply leave it vacant and collect rent from the estate for the rest of the year.
You need to be sure that you negotiate with someone who is authorized to act as the tenant’s next of kin or executor of the estate. Accordingly, you’ll need to establish who legally represents deceased tenant, what you are permitted to do with personal belongings and how you ultimately regain possession of the vacant unit. There are many details involved, we will discuss issues associated with personal property and next of kin in a separate blog.
Property management can be complicated and challenging, and situations like this are a good reminder why it’s so important to understand the law and how it pertains to seemingly unique situations. If you have any questions on this or any other topic, or you need help with your own rental property, please contact us at DeDe’s Rentals. We’d be pleased to be of assistance.