What would you do if your tenant suddenly passed away?

When previously working as a Property Manager and then managing large teams of Property Managers, unfortunately I occasionally had to contend with situations where sadly one of our tenants passed away. Generally, this was infrequent, sometimes happened when they were in the property itself and was often a long and drawn out process to resolve.

If you are managing your own property, are you aware of the steps you would need to take as a landlord if your tenant suddenly passed away? 

Many landlords and tenants are not aware that as with the death of a landlord, the fact that a tenant has died does NOT mean that the tenancy automatically comes to an end. The tenancy becomes part of the deceased tenant’s estate and so must be dealt with by the Executor of the Will, until the Probate is granted. Believe it or not, I have encountered landlords who refused to release deceased tenants from their obligations under the tenancy agreement and rent has remained payable.

Once an Executor of the Will is appointed, they take over the rights and obligations of the agreement and continues to be liable for the rent until the end of the tenancy. Granting of a probate is often a lengthy process and as a landlord, you should be aware that you don’t need to wait for this process to conclude.

To ensure the property is not left vacant for a considerable period of time, the following steps should be taken:

  • You should contact next of kin and request a copy of the Letters of Administration confirming who is Executor of the estate.
  • Once these are received and you know who is dealing with everything, you may wish to consider accepting early release of the tenant from the contract. A letter should be sent to the Executors advising you are willing to accept surrender of the tenancy, ensure you include the terms of the surrender and the date you agree the tenancy should end. The early release letter is to be signed by the Executors, acting on behalf of the deceased and sent back to you.
  • However, if neither the landlord nor the Executors wish to surrender the tenancy, then the tenancy will continue and the rent will still be due.

If the tenancy is agreed to end, you will need to request the keys are returned and then a check out report is carried out. The Estate should deal with the removing of all the deceased’s belongings and arrange for the property to be cleaned. I have encountered situations where emergency services have had to break into the property to gain access, the costs of any repairs as a result of this can be claimed from the tenants deposit. The deposit should be dealt with as normal, via the Executor in lieu of the deceased tenant. The check-out report should be sent to them and your dilapidations claims or arrears agreed with them in writing. Any deposit monies owed to the tenant are paid to the Executor and become part of the Estate.

If the deceased tenant shares the property with his/her spouse, then you must be aware that the spouse will have the right of succession, regardless of whether he/she is included on the original agreement. This is called ‘right of survivorship’. If the spouse continues with the tenancy, then the obligation and terms of the tenancy, including the payment of rent remains. However, you should seek legal advice if this situation occurs. If the spouse was a named tenant, then you should reference the spouse for the full amount of the rent payable for the property.

If the tenant has no friends or relatives and there is no-one able to deal with the administration of his estate after his death, then an official called ‘The Official Solicitor and Public Trustee’ has the authority to deal with this and this is who you should contact with regards to surrendering the tenancy.

Angharad Trueman – Operations Manager

Posted on Thursday, 4 May, 2017