Respectful response: suicide in rental properties

Journal, Property Management, Tenants,  Property Managers
Content warning: Some readers may find the following article and information distressing. Reader discretion is advised.

The death of a tenant by suicide is an uncommon but serious situation that a Property Manager may have to face at some point during their career. It is a confronting subject and can be difficult to navigate both for the Property Manager and the tenant’s family, so accordingly, care and consideration should be exercised throughout the process.

Initial Response

There have been many cases where the property agent has been the first person to discover that a tenant has committed suicide, which often arises when a tenant has unexpectedly fallen into arrears.

If you are faced with this situation, it is important to remember the following:

  • do not move or touch the body;
  • do not move or touch anything in the property; and
  • exit the property immediately and phone the police.

It is not your role as a Property Manager to contact the tenant’s family.

The police will contact the tenant’s family to advise them and, if required, organise a Coroner’s Report.

No one, including family members, should enter the property until the police have arrived. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have granted access to a person who has then unlawfully removed items from the property or otherwise interfered with the scene.

The Weeks That Follow

A common question we are asked is, who should the keys be given to for the purpose of removing the tenant’s belongings from the property? The answer varies depending on if there is a current Will in place, and the instructions outlined in that Will.

  • If there is a Will then the keys should be handed to the named Executor (not the beneficiary).
    The executor can be verified by sighting a copy of the Will together with photo identification.
  • If the tenant did not have a Will:
    1. the matter can be referred to the Public Trustee; or
    2. if a family member is seeking the keys, it would be prudent to sight a solicitor’s letter stating that this individual has the highest priority to administer the estate prior to handing the keys over.

Once the Executor/Administrator has been contacted and they are in receipt of the keys, it is important to liaise with the family to arrange the removal of the tenant’s belongings.

What Happens To the lease?

When a sole tenant dies the tenancy ends:

  • 2 weeks after written notice is received either by the property manager, owner of the property or the tenant’s representative;
  • On the day agreed by the property manager, owner of the property and the tenant’s representative;
  • At a date determined by QCAT; or
  • If none of the above have occurred, then one month after the tenant’s death.

As part of ending the lease, it’s important to factor in potential costs involved. For example, there may be fees payable for cleaning the property, storing the tenant’s items or repairing damage to the property from during the tenancy.

It is crucial that a written record is maintained of all invoices and receipts, especially if cleaning costs are not covered under the insurance as it may be payable by the tenant’s Estate (depending on the terms of the rental agreement).

Ultimately, if you are faced with a tenant committing suicide in a rental property, you must adopt a strictly legal approach and exercise common-sense.

If you or someone you know needs help now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If someone is in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).

Disclaimer: While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in our publications, this information should not be used or relied upon as a substitute for legal advice.

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