Tenant Death & Landlord Rights

A landlord has specific rights and responsibilities when faced with the death of a tenant. State laws govern how a landlord can enforce lease terms, relet the dwelling and dispose of a tenant's property.

State by State

Rental laws are state-by-state. States can have very different laws for tenant-landlord relationships, so it is important not to assume that a practice that is legal in one state is legal in any other state.

Future Rent

Even when a tenant dies, in most states the lease remains in effect. A landlord then has the right to the rent as agreed upon in the lease and can sue the tenant's estate for the balance.

Reclaiming the Unit

If a tenant had a lease, the tenant's estate now holds that lease and landlords may not rent the dwelling unless, and until, the lease lapses or is terminated. If the tenant had a month-to-month arrangement, the landlord must follow state law regarding the termination of periodic tenancies.

The Tenant's Property

A tenant's property belongs to the tenant's estate. Once a lease has been terminated, the landlord may remove this property, but must safely store it according to state law. In some cases, if property remains unclaimed for a period of time, the landlord can sell it and recoup the costs of storage and any other money owed by the tenant.


A landlord can find himself in big trouble if he attempts to rent the dwelling or remove the tenant's belongings prior to proper termination of tenancy.

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About the Author

Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.

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