No one wants to think about death, be it their own or be it their tenant’s. But while it’s not the most pleasant subject, a little forethought on what will happen if your tenant passes away can make things much easier if that day comes.
First, what about all the tenant’s stuff? Luckily the VRLTA is here to guide you. Section 55.1-1256 covers what you must do to dispose of that property in the event that the sole tenant passes away. Basically, if there is someone in the lease identified as the emergency contact, you must send a notice to that person stating that they have 10 days to remove the property from the premises, or it will be treated as abandoned. If no one comes to claim the property by the end of that 10-day period, you can dispose of the property as if it was abandoned.
If the sole tenant dies, but there are authorized occupants or guests living at the property, those people must vacate by the end of that 10-day period. The VRLTA is very clear that when the sole tenant dies, the lease is immediately terminated (so you don’t have to worry about getting an order of possession). If there are any damages to the unit, the tenant’s estate will be responsible for them (though the landlord still has a duty to mitigate those damages).
Of course, upon termination of a lease, one of your first concerns should be the security deposit. But how can you give a deposit back to someone who is no longer living? Well first you should do your normal walk-through inspection and determine damages. Obviously, this will be much easier if the tenant’s personal property has been removed. When you arrive at a final total (minus deductions) that would normally be due to the tenant, you can work through the probate process to ensure the money goes where it should go.
Assuming the money due the tenant is less than $50,000, you may turn that money over to the circuit court for the locality in which your property is located. When probate is opened for the estate, the court will have those funds and be able to distribute them to the estate according to probate law. Probate law is a whole different (and complicated) topic, so we can’t claim that this blog is an exhaustive review of the topic. However, for a first step in this situation, we strongly advise that you call the circuit court clerk’s office and ask them for their procedures.
For more information on this topic, check out our Caveat REALTOR® podcast episode “Death of a Tenant and Probate”.