Until recently, when a tenant died and still had a lease, landlords had two options: Assuming there was no family member with succession rights to the place, the landlord could either consider the lease terminated or they could allow the tenant’s obligation under the lease to transfer to their estate.
If a landlord chose not to consider the lease terminated, the estate either had to pay out the lease’s remainder or petition the landlord to permit the property to be sublet through the end of the lease’s term.
The estate of the deceased tenant now has more power
Under a law recently signed by Governor Kathy Hochul, the tenant’s executor (if they had a will) or personal representative (if they did not and one was appointed by the estate) can now simply cancel the lease by providing the landlord with notice and turning over the keys.
For all practical concerns, this makes it much easier for both the landlord and the tenant’s estate to move on. However, the tenant’s estate can still be held responsible for some of the landlord’s expenses. These include:
- Unpaid rent that the tenant owed before their death
- Rent that was unpaid between the time of the tenant’s death and the time of surrender
- Damages to the apartment or home that are beyond normal “wear and tear”
- Cleaning services and hazard removal services related to the tenant’s death
- The cost of moving and storing the tenant’s belongings, if the landlord had to do so
As a landlord, you may hope to never have to deal with this particular situation – but it’s a distinct possibility. Knowing what to do to comply with the legalities of the situation can be difficult on your own, particularly if there is no will, disputes over the estate or nobody to claim the tenant’s belongings. Seeking experienced legal guidance can help you navigate the situation.