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Owning rental property can be a smart investment for those looking to receive a steady stream of income. This can be particularly helpful for those in retirement who can use the rental income to fund a decent quality of life during their golden years. However, being a property owner does come with its share of responsibilities and duties which must be taken care of.

There are various unexpected situations property owners will have to navigate and deal with. This can include late rental payments, violation of lease terms, damage to the property and even the need to evict a tenant. One of the more challenging issues that could come up is having to deal with a tenant’s unexpected death. 

The following are some basic things you should do if your tenant dies unexpectedly. 

Written Notification of Death 

The most common way a property owner finds out about a tenant’s death is when a family member or executor of the tenant’s estate contacts you and informs you of the unfortunate news. If you happen to discover the decedent yourself you should contact the police right away. The authorities will contact your tenant’s next of kin, but if there is no next of kin the police can assist you in obtaining a certificate of death.

In the case of a large apartment building or if you are unfamiliar with the tenant, you can wait for the tenant’s family to send you a Written Notification of Death. The notification may come from your tenant’s lawyer or executor.

Secure your property 

Upon receiving the Written Notification of Death, you have the legal right to do what you need to do to make sure the property is secure as long as there is nobody else living there who is on the lease. Ensure the doors and windows are locked and you may want to consider changing the locks. If you need to enter the premises to secure the property it is not a bad idea to video record yourself in case somebody accuses you of damaging the property or stealing belongings. After securing the premises you can then coordinate with the decedent’s family to take away personal property and have the unit cleaned.

Terminating the lease and collecting the final month’s rent 

Most states have laws which guarantee property owners receive payment for the remainder of a deceased tenant’s lease. This payment is paid by an executor or surviving family member from the decedent’s estate. However, some states only entitle property owners a certain number of months’ worth of rent. Also, if there is damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear you may be entitled to keep a portion of or all of the security deposit.

Release to the Rights of Possession 

After the decedent’s personal property has been cleared away and the unit has been properly cleaned you will need to have the decedent’s next of kin sign a Release to the Rights of Possession document. Once you have this routine form you are legally allowed to rent the property to another tenant.