When a Tenant Passes Away in your Rental Property – How to Handle it Properly?
Death is a fact of life. And it is going to have to happen somewhere. But, what if death occurs on your rental property? If one of your tenants passes away while living in your rental property, do you automatically take possession back of the residence? And lastly, do you have an obligation to tell future potential tenants?
Death can happen at any moment, so it is wise to be informed and prepared – just in case. Here are some general guidelines. (If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation and you are unfamiliar with how to proceed, it is best to contact an attorney for guidance.)
What does the lease say?
Whether you handle your own rentals or you use an Atlanta property management company, it is likely that your lease agreement says that it is an agreement between you, or your Atlanta property management company, and your tenant, or your tenant’s heirs or representatives. If so, then when your tenant dies, the lease remains in effect until completion. The rent payment will also still be due, as responsibility of the estate. In most cases, a probate case will be opened and an estate must be dealt with. At that time, an Executor will also be appointed. This person will be the one who will handle all dealings with you or your Atlanta property managers concerning the rental property.
Can I go into my deceased tenant’s residence?
This can be tricky. When your sole tenant dies, this does not automatically return the property to you. Since death is usually unexpected, it is likely that the tenant’s residence will appear as if he or she is still alive. That includes personal belongings, pets, food, etc. You cannot legally just remove the items from the home. While the property is yours, the belongings are not.
If the belongings become part of the estate, the Executor is the only one who can remove them or arrange for them to be removed. Due to court processes and depending on location, there will likely be a lapse in time before this occurs.
What about safety issues?
As the landlord of the Atlanta rental property, you are required to maintain the safety and maintenance of the property. Once you are informed of the death of your tenant, you should enter the property to make sure it is safe and secure.
Since death is usually unexpected, you or your Atlanta property managers will want to enter the residence and check the following:
- Make sure all windows are in a closed and locked position.
- Make sure all exterior doors are in a closed and locked position.
- Check all water sources and make sure they are in the ‘off’ position.
- Check all appliances, such as stove and oven, and make sure they are in the ‘off’ position.
- Remove any food items that may have been left out to spoil.
- Empty the garbage can.
- If any pets are present, arrange for them to be cared for by family, friends, or a shelter.
- Depending on the current weather conditions, make sure the heat or air conditioning is set to maintain a proper indoor climate.
But, do I have to tell the next tenant?
According to Title 44 of the Georgia Code (O.C.G.A. 44-1-16 (2010)), if asked directly about a death – whether homicide, suicide, or natural causes, “an owner, real estate broker, or affiliated licensee of the broker shall…answer truthfully to the best of that person's individual knowledge any question concerning…” the death of a prior tenant or a death that occurred on the property. There is an exception, however, if answering a direct question about a death is “…prohibited by or constitutes a violation of any federal or state law or rule or regulation, expressly including without limitation the federal Fair Housing Act as now or hereafter amended or the state's fair housing law as set forth in Code Sections 8-3-200 through 8-3-223.”
In other words, yes. You and your Atlanta property management company are obligated to tell future potential tenants if they ask you whether a death has occurred on the property unless answering will disclose information that is prohibited by law to be released.
As the landlord of a deceased tenant’s property, be careful in dealing with family members. Death can breed many emotions for people and emotions tend to run high during times of grief. You do not want to legally put yourself or your Atlanta property managers in a sticky situation when there is an ongoing probate case. Know your rights and follow through with them to protect your investment.