Death for rent.
February 4, 2010 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Landlord-filter: What happens if my tenant dies?

I own a two-family house in Massachusetts, and I rent out the bottom unit to a guy who is on rental assistance ('section 8'). He's sick, and in the hospital, and he may or may not be able to return to the apartment. But after the last ambulance visit, it made me wonder -- what do I do if he dies while living here? Do with his apartment full of stuff, that is, not with him. (With him, I figure "call 911 and start cpr if appropriate" would be the obvious response.) He either does not have any living relatives or does not have any relatives who live close by.

Who would be responsible for clearing out his stuff? Would I end up having to get rid of it and try to bill the estate if there is one? How long would the situation likely remain in limbo? (It's sort of the reverse of the situation in this previous question.
posted by rmd1023 to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I hate to be one of THOSE people, but you should talk to either a landlord's organization or a lawyer for guidance. This can be a complicated issue, and it may all hinge on whether he has heirs, which you don't know right now. In many places they can almost always find an heir for inheritance purposes if the person doesn't have a will because they will go to a certain point in the family to find one (siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, depends on the state), but as for their responsibility regarding his lease... (I certainly have no clue)
Also, did he pay a security deposit? Could that be applied to any costs you incur? Would the costs really be worth going after his estate (and if he's on section 8, sounds like he probably doesn't have a lot of assets to his name out there or else he wouldn't have qualified). IANAL or an expert, but I would certainly not do ANYTHING with the man's stuff until you have an answer to this question if he does pass away.
posted by ishotjr at 5:36 PM on February 4, 2010

Response by poster: oh, hell, yeah. i know metafilter is not my lawyer - not even my drugged out samoan attorney - and if it does come to pass (or pass away, as it were), i'll be standing on my lawyer's doorstep saying "HELP, WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO, HERE?" and not doing anything with his stuff besides, possibly, re-keying the lock, since i don't know who he may have given keys to.

i have to chat with someone from the rental assistance agency tomorrow, anyways, so i'll probably pose the question to him and see if he's got a general clue.

but i figured perhaps some mefite had encountered this sort of issue and had an idea as to what the scoop is.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:45 PM on February 4, 2010

Are you able to communicate with him at all? Seems to me the humanitarian thing to do would be to ask him if there are any friends or family that you could contact in case something happens, and if there's no one, ask him what he'd like you to do.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:50 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

And, if he's incapable of communicating, maybe the hospital has a social worker that could track a relative down for you or offer some guidance.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:51 PM on February 4, 2010

I wouldn't rule out just asking him. Honestly if it's such an intimate relationship (ie: not a landlord of a huge complex) if you feel comfortable with it I could see it being very appropriate asking something along the lines of "Hey, Barry, I want to be here to help; should the worst happen, is there anyone I can call for you?"

Not being cruel; being realistic and honestly friendly.

Depends of course on your relationship with your tenant. But I can only imagine if I was in his situation I would welcome the concern.
posted by carlh at 5:52 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My lease had a space for me to give emergency contact information to my landlady. Perhaps you should ask him who you should contact in the event of an emergency.
posted by Gridlock Joe at 6:32 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: good thought. i'll ask the hospital social worker (he's in hospital at the moment) for 'emergency contact info' if available.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:52 PM on February 4, 2010

I am not a rental assistance agency and I am not your rental assistance agency. However, Mrs. alms works at a rental assistance agency in Massachusetts. She says the advice you've gotten so far is good. Talk to the rental assistance agency about it. Try to get emergency contact info (i.e. relatives). Do you have a security deposit? If so, you may be able to use part of that to cover cleanup and disposal costs. But the people to discuss this with are the people who are paying most of the rent, i.e. the rental assistance agency.
posted by alms at 7:10 PM on February 4, 2010

Best answer: There are a couple of pages on this in Nolo's excellent Every Landlord's Legal Guide, which I highly recommend owning on general principles. To summarize the key points:

* Contact appropriate authorities and/or relatives.
* Preserve the tenant's property by securing the premises and only allowing access to someone with legal authority to dispose of the dead person's assets (e.g. executor, trustee).
* If necessary, store the belongings according to state law.
* [My advice: both of the above will be legally safer for you if you take pictures or video of the property before anyone else has access.]
* At the above stages perhaps have a disinterested third party who can serve as a witness.
* Property claimants should have a court order, sworn affidavit, or notarized instrument of trust.
* Don't be afraid to stonewall until you can get guidance if you have disputed claims. Better a delay than a claim against you.
* Any damages or costs beyond the deposit may become a claim against the estate to be filed with the probate court.
posted by dhartung at 9:45 PM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks for the advice so far.

dhartung: i had forgotten about the nolo book -- i've got a copy of it somewhere, even. i'll have to dig it up.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:08 AM on February 5, 2010

Have you visited him in the hospital to ask him? (You may not have that kind of relationship, I realize.) Do the other tenants in your house have a relationship of any sort with him? Maybe they know if he has family anywhere. But the social worker at the hospital is your best bet - she may be able to get him to give you the information you need (she can only give you that info with his permission.) Also, if/when he does die, you may be able to get some of your answers at the funeral.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:42 AM on February 7, 2010

Response by poster: Well, he died the other day, while still in hospital.

Today, I'm off to 1. exhaustively photograph the apartment, and 2. call my lawyer.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:39 AM on February 20, 2010

« Older Concerned and confused about unemployment.   |   Petite Printer, Please Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.