Does the death of the landlord void the lease?
November 28, 2006 10:45 AM   Subscribe

NYCFilter: If my landlord dies, does that death void my lease?

My landlord is an older man. He has some health problems. He's going into the hospital for a procedure next week. His agent who collects the rent was very eager to get my money into his account before his visit to the hospital.

I'm not sure how much of this urgency is just her normal anxiety and paranoia, but it still has me wondering: if my landlord were to die, would that void my lease or can I stay at my apartment and just pay his estate? I live in a co-op building. I pay market rate. I'm not covered by rent control or stabilization. I have been addressing the checks to him personally, not to a real estate company.

My concerns are that, without the protection of the lease, his heirs might try to increase the rent or sell the unit. These aren't huge concerns; I have been a reliable tenant for quite a while and the building isn't in a great location, so units tend not to move very quickly.

He'll probably be OK. But in the event something should happen, I would like to know what my legal position would be.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Best answer: I'm no expert on these things, but being familiar with certain scenarios and having been gently pushed out of a rental in the past for a new owner...

It depends on what any new owners intend to do with the property. Your landlord doesn't even need to die - he can either sell the building or pass the management along to another family member, and any of the standard loopholes can be exploited. However, that's just what they are - loopholes. They can't have you move out for arbitrary reasons. They either need to exploit your weaknesses as a tenant (late rent, noise making, littering, etc.) and proceed with a lease termination and legal eviction (not a quick process), or they have to try for a Hail Mary and terminate your lease based on demolition of property or reclamation (the owner must move into the apartment).

Your rates, in any case, are safe until the end of your current lease. And barring any of the above scenarios, a term lease cannot be altered without your consent. But keep in mind that when the term expires, you have zero rights. Month-to-month renters also have zero rights unless specifically stated in a lease - which they rarely are.

I wouldn't ask anyone anything unless something happens to your landlord (good luck to him in his medical procedure). Changes would be months ahead unless your lease is up soon. You're safe for now.
posted by brianvan at 11:57 AM on November 28, 2006

I'm not sure this would apply in New York, but when my landlord in Texas went to prison for kidnapping, there was some dispute about who I should continue making payments to while she was doing her time in the Federal pen. Her husband, the kidnapping victim, was pretty insistent that the money should go to him. However, our lease was with the kidnapper, and the legal advice I got was to continue sending the checks by certified mail to the address specified in the lease until the end of the lease period. So that's what I did, and it all worked out. Of course, we had no intention of renewing the lease with a situation like that, so that wasn't a concern.
posted by hackwolf at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2006

Too many variables to be answered here. See a NY Lawyer or check with your local tenant's rights organization.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:21 PM on November 28, 2006

as Ironmouth said, there are a lot of variables here. However, a basic contract law premise is that, in an agreement between two people, the contract dies with one of the contractors (IAAL(student)). But, there's a lot going on here that may alter that premise.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: Well, what craven_morhead said may well apply to "basic contracts." Say you contract with some guy to build something and he dies; he's clearly not going to build it from beyond the grave, so the contract is over. But a lease has to do with one of those most basic of needs, roof-over-head. Therefore any good lease should have a clause spelling out what happens should one of the parties die.

The first thing to do, and I seriously mean before calling any lawyers is to read your lease contract very carefully. Somewhere in that document is a paragraph about "survivorship" or "assignability" or a similar word, and it will spell out what happens if for whatever reason the property changes ownership. Without having seen this document I can only speculate, but my wild assed guess is that the contract is binding upon the new owners, be they heirs or whatever, for the duration of the lease. If the lease does not make this clear, then it is time to call a lawyer or someone (renter's advocate?) who knows the law as it applies to rental property.

All bets are off if you are leasing on a month-to-month basis, an "expired lease" (which usually means the original lease contract is expired but all your obligations under the lease remain until you move), or (worse yet) a verbal lease. Verbal contracts are worth the paper they aren't written on. In fact, if you are on a verbal lease, look into moving or negotiating a written lease now.

I am not a lawyer. I am a 4th generation apartment manager (TX).
posted by ilsa at 3:33 PM on November 28, 2006

Most standard leases have provisions for also being applicable (or not) to the successors or assigns of one or both parties. This is what kicks in when one party dies, or the building is sold, or similar circumstances. If your lease does not contain such language, it probably ends upon such an event, but a lawyer could tell you, and would probably answer this question for free.
posted by Caviar at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2006

Best answer: Not a lawyer, but am a NYC coop dweller and I imagine you pay him personally as he is the owner of the coop shares and those shares will transfer to his estate on his death and to whomever he wills the shares you will be obligated to continue paying. And whomever receives the shares is obligated to honor the lease till term.
posted by Kensational at 6:28 PM on November 28, 2006

Response by poster: OK. I guess I don't have a reason to worry.

My position's pretty solid.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!
posted by jason's_planet at 10:06 AM on November 29, 2006

maybe you don't want to know this but even if you don't pay rent for months. it'll take about 6 months for them to officially get you evicted ... of course, you'll never be able to rent another apt in NYC ... BTW, there was a great article in NY mag about renting in NYC so you can learn any ins or outs you missed.
posted by jbelkin at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2006

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