Protect Yourself When a Tenant Dies In Your Building

Reader Question: We own a 24-unit apartment building. We have an eighty-eight-year-old tenant with no next of kin according to him. When he passes on, what are we to do with his belongings? He has nothing of any value; his biggest asset is a twenty-year-old car. Whom do we notify? He seems healthy and active for his age, but if we find him dead, who do we call?

Monty’s Answer: One consideration not often considered is that your tenant could outlive you. If you find him unresponsive, call 911 immediately and secure the apartment. Do not disturb or handle anything in his residence, and wait for the rescue squad’s arrival.

Each state has a law that determines the course of action you need to follow at that point. You will want to secure a document that confirms the death and treat his belongings as abandoned property. The lease continues for a specific time, and you will be able to file with the estate for any lost rent. While he said he has no next of kin and no assets, neither statement may be right. Relatives could come out of the woodwork looking to determine if there are assets to which they may be entitled. Do not allow anyone to remove any item or rummage through his belongings without a higher authority’s written permission. Do not enable non-official people to enter the apartment alone. Consider changing the locks.

Communicate Now

Start a conversation with him. Make him aware of, an organization that assists older citizens in being prepared for medical emergencies. You do not have to push back on the next of kin or asset statements. The fact he has a car suggests that he has a driver license. How does he pay his rent? Authorities will use that information to access his background and may be able to notify relatives of his passing.

Create A History

Some event could cause you to call the rescue squad was he unresponsive but still alive. If he has no next of kin, discuss what he would expect of you. Another consideration is to arrange to have a municipal social worker visit for a welfare check.

Take notes and write down the names of the people you speak with to document your efforts. Create a file that demonstrates you were proactive in seeking assistance and counsel for him. Protecting yourself from those non-existent relatives is a good idea.