The tenancy agreement is signed, the tenant moves in, and is happily living in their new home and then you get ‘the phone call’. Generally, it is a call from a relative or neighbour or even the police.
The tenant has passed away.
In the event that there are two tenants on the lease, the remaining tenant may choose to stay in the property or negotiate with the owner to end the tenancy agreement. Often (depending on the death) the remaining tenants may not want to remain in the property, therefore this needs to be handled with care and respect. Many owners would agree to the termination of the tenancy however if the owners choose not to allow the remaining tenant to leave, the tenant may choose to pursue a termination through QCAT under hardship. It’s important that this is conveyed to the landlord clearly.
When a sole tenant passes away, it can often be quite a sad and confronting time. The family/estate has obligations to remove all of the tenant’s belongings, clean the property and return all keys within the two-week timeframe, but they are generally also arranging a funeral and dealing with an array of emotions.
It is important to identify the main point of contact for all matters – this would ideally be the executor of the will, and it’s important to remember that keys to the property can only be given to the executor.
Being respectful of the family during this time is paramount, but this also has to be balanced with our role of reletting the property for the landlord. Communication is the key in these situations and property managers and owners can assist by offering help by way of arranging removalists, booking cleaning and gardening services and giving them their time.
As property managers, we can be very busy with day to day tasks that we forget to give people time. We are often caught up in the need to document everything in writing that we often forget that it can be the sound of a voice that can be more comforting and helpful than an email.
You can advise the family that the bond can also be claimed immediately (after consultation with the executor of the will) and used for cleaning and gardening costs and for removing any unwanted items to assist the family. If the process takes longer than expected, landlord insurance may also cover any loss of rent.
Unfortunately, there are some instances where a tenant may die in the rental property itself. Depending on the cause and situation, again an insurance claim may need to be lodged and it is recommended to contact the landlords’ insurance company immediately if this has occurred.
Unfortunately, as property managers, the death of a tenant and sometimes an owner, happens to us all.
Compassion and empathy are essential qualities needed by property managers during one of the worst experiences for the people involved.