What should I do if my tenant dies?

As a landlord, there are any number of circumstances you could encounter and one of those is the death of your tenant.

Firstly, this can be a really upsetting time, especially if you have known your tenant for a long while, so be sure you’re getting the support you need.

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There are practical steps that you as the landlord need to take in this situation, but it’s also a very difficult time for the family and friends of your tenant, so you need to be as sensitive as possible.

What are the circumstances of the death?

If you were unlucky enough to find the body of your tenant the first thing you need to do is call the police. Don’t touch anything and preferably leave the property and wait outside for the police to arrive. 

This is a pretty shocking experience, so you may not take in what the attending officers tell you about next steps, so ask for a contact that you can speak to when you feel ready to. Don’t worry about letting the relatives know, as this is something the police will take care of.

If you have been alerted to the death of your tenant by the police, be sure to ask what the next steps are.

  • Death at home. If you tenant died at home, the police will need to ascertain cause of death and rule out murder or suicide. This can become quite time-consuming, so make sure that you have an officer you can speak to, to find out what is happening and how you can help. You may need to produce your certification (Gas, EICR, EPC) to prove that you were fully compliant and they may also wish to see historic documentation 
  • Death outside of the home. If your tenant was killed in an accident outside of the home, you are likely to hear about it via the police. While your property won’t be a potential crime scene, it can still take some time to reclaim the property 

Taking over a tenancy when someone dies

The most important thing to remember is that the tenancy doesn’t end when the tenant dies. If your tenant shared the property with housemates or a partner, the surviving tenants will automatically take over the tenancy, so you will want to check if they are happy and able to do so.

 Your next steps depend on what type of tenancy you have:

  • Statutory Tenancy. The tenancy will pass to the spouse, if your tenant had one, or to another next of kin
  • Periodic Assured Tenancy. The tenancy will pass to the spouse, if your tenant had one, or to another next of kin. The landlord can also serve a Section 21 notice or recover possession through the courts under Ground 7
  • Fixed Term Tenancy. If your tenant passed away during the fixed term, the tenancy will pass to the legal Personal Representative of the tenant. This personal representative will clear any arrears from the tenant’s estate before beneficiaries will receive anything

If your tenant didn’t leave a will or an executor, the tenancy will be temporarily transferred to a public trustee. In this instance:

  • You must not take back the property. Even if the tenancy is coming to an end, you could face a fine if you do not follow these steps
  • Written notice. You must provide written notice, posting it to the tenant’s last known address
  • Send copies. Make a copy of what you’ve posted and send that to the public trustee, along with a completed NL1 form
  • Register the notice. You do this with the public trustee, you will then need to wait for the go-ahead to reclaim your property

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Working with bereaved next of kin or fellow tenants

Much as this can be shocking for you as a landlord, it will definitely hit the bereaved relatives harder, especially if the tenant shared the property with friends or a partner. 

While you need to take practical steps for your business, it’s important to remember that you are likely to have to work with people who are very upset, so you need to be as sensitive as possible:

  • Keep talking. Make sure you keep the lines of communication open, so you know what is happening and can provide support if necessary or plan your own next steps
  • Be sensitive. Bereaved relatives may not be able to face thinking about the practical next steps, which is understandable. Much as you need to make your own plans, try not to badger them
  • Give time. Relatives will be preoccupied with organising a send off for their loved one, so clearing out the property might not be top of their list of things to do. Give as much time as you can, but do check in regularly, so you have an idea when the property will be free for the next tenant

Deposit and belongings

Any damage to the property or outstanding rent can be paid out of the deposit, with any leftover returned to the executor:

  • Itemise all deductions. Make sure you keep a complete record of any damage or arrears you are deducting for, to pass onto the executor 
  • Use a professional inventory. If you have a professional inventory taken and a check in and out organised, this will be a lot easier for you in the event of any disputes
  • Deed of Surrender. This deed allows the early termination of a lease, with both parties in agreement, and will detail any obligations that need to be fulfilled before termination

Belongings can be treated as though they were abandoned. However, this is pretty harsh in the circumstances and you should think about how those left behind will be impacted by your actions at this time. Do your best to organise with the next of kin or executor to have them picked up at their earliest convenience.

Ultimately, this is a tricky time for all involved and, much as you need to consider your business, doing all you can to support those who are grieving is the right thing to do.

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