In the event of the death of a tenant, the landlord has three primary concerns: what happens to the lease, dealing with the tenant's personal property, and dealing with the security deposit. I will now address each of these concerns in turn.
What happens to the lease upon the death of a tenant is governed by Minn. Stat. 504B .265. Basically, the lease continues in force, until the landlord or the tenant (or the tenant's estate) provide notice that the lease has terminated.
The statute provides that either the landlord or the tenant can terminate the lease by providing written notice at least 60 days in advance. In other words, the notice must be given at least two full rental periods in advance. For example, notice given sometime in the month of September actually terminates the lease as of the end of November, and the tenant's estate is on the hook for rent from the date of the notice through the end of the lease.
However, the tenant's estate remains liable for unpaid rent and other amounts due and owing under the lease through the date of the lease termination. The landlord still has to deal with the deceased tenant's personal property as well as the security deposit, but can sue the tenant's estate in conciliation court for the amounts due and owing under the lease, including unpaid rent, unpaid utilities, and damages to the rental unit beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Personal Property Belonging to the Deceased Tenant
The landlord has the duty under Minn. Stat. 504B.271 to secure the tenant's property. This can be most easily accomplished by either changing the locks, if the property is going to be stored in the unit, or moving the property to a no other secured location on site, such as a lockable garage. Once it becomes apparent to the landlord that the tenant has abandoned the property, the landlord has to secure it, as described above. The landlord has to store the property for 28 days if the property is to be stored on site.
After the property is secured, the landlord has to conduct an inventory of the property. The easiest way to do the inventory is to take digital photographs or a video of the property, accompanied by a list describing the specific items. Big-ticket items, such as a television, should be listed separately, but general categories are okay for other items, such as furniture, electronics, clothing, etc.
The landlord has to mail a copy of the inventory to the tenant (or the estate of the tenant at the tenant's last known address), which is probably the apartment. I recommend posting a sign on the door indicating that property appears to be abandoned to the landlord, the landlord has secured the tenant's personal property and that the landlord may be contacted to set up an appointment to provide access.
The landlord should only provide access to the personal property of a deceased tenant to someone who is named as a personal representative in the tenant's will. If the tenant died intestate – that is, without a will – I would be very cautious about providing access to the property to a person who is not named or has been appointed as a personal representative. After all – the landlord does not want to be liable to the tenant's estate for improperly disposing of the tenant's personal property.
For more information on dealing with a tenant's personal property, please see my previous blog post on the subject:
Security deposits in Minnesota are governed by Minn. Stat. 504B .178. The landlord has to return the security deposit to the tenant within 21 days after termination of the tenancy, with interest, less the amount of damages to the landlord beyond ordinary wear and tear. When a tenant dies, the security deposit becomes the property of the tenant's estate. The landlord should return any deposit remaining, with appropriate interest, to either the named or appointed personal representative or to the estate of the tenant at the tenant's last-known address, which is probably the rental unit.
For more information on dealing with the security deposit, please see my previous blog post on the subject:
The death of a tenant presents a complicated situation to the landlord, and every landlord-tenant situation is unique. For that reason, I recommend that landlords talk to an attorney experienced in evictions and landlord tenant law before taking action based on this blog post. To that end, I invite landlords to give me a call at 763-450-9494 to discuss their unique situation. I typically do not represent tenants.
WARNING: The information contained in this blog post does not constitute legal advice and may not be applicable to your situation. Tim is licensed to practice law only in Minnesota, and the information contained in this blog post may not apply to jurisdictions outside of Minnesota. Further, reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Baland Law Office, P.L.L.C. You should always discuss your situation with an attorney before taking any action based on what you may read in this blog. To that end, please call (763) 450-9494 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.