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  • Writer's pictureSasha Struthers

What does a California landlord do if a tenant dies?

Updated: Jan 5

California landlords, especially ones that have not dealt with the death of a tenant before can be very overwhelmed by the sudden occurrence. When a tenant dies there are two things pending- (1) possession of the unit and (2) left over personal property.

When does a lease end after a tenant dies?

Death of a tenant does not automatically terminate a lease. When a tenant dies before the lease term ends the tenant's estate is responsible for the rent, unless the estate returns possession of the unit to the owner. However, if the tenant who died was on a month to month lease then the lease is deemed terminated 30 days after the last rent payment was made by the deceased. A 30 day notice is not required. (California Civil Code § 1934.)

What does a landlord do with the tenant's belongings?

If there are pets, call animal control.

Once the court appoints an executor, which you will need to see proof of the executor status/appointment, get in contact with them, though they will likely reach out to you first. The executor is responsible for getting payment to the landlord for the remainder of the rent through the lease period. If it is a long term lease and the executor likely does not want to keep rent payments going, then work with the executor to either have the property removed from the premises or the executor pay rent while the property remains in the unit.

If there is no known executor or next of kin, then the landlord treats the property as abandoned and follows the procedures under Civil Code § 1951.3 and/or § 1984. The steps usually look like the following:

  • 30 days after the last lease payment was made by the decedent send out statutory compliant "Notice of Belief of Abandonment" and/or "Right to Reclaim Abandoned Property"

  • Wait 19 days, if the notice was mailed (the tenant is deceased so personal service is not possible).

  • If the property is reasonably believed to be worth less than $700, it can be thrown away.

  • If the property is reasonably believed to be worth more than $700, it needs to be sold at public auction in California. Landlord may recover the cost of storage from the auction proceeds, then issue the remainder of the money to the County where the rental is located.

What to do with the security deposit?

Treat the security deposit like you usually would, deduct back rent owed, damage repair and any clean up, including clean up related to the decedent's body. If there is money left over then a check would be written to the "Estate of (Decedent's Name)." If there is money owed to the landlord after the security deposit is fully accounted for, then the landlord needs to submit a claim through probate.

When does a landlord have possession of the unit after tenant's death?

Prior to renting out the unit, the landlord should get a letter from the executor returning possession of the unit to the landlord, sometimes call the "Release to the Rights of Possession" letter. After receiving this letter and all personal items are removed by the estate, the landlord may re-let the apartment.

If there is no named executor or known next of kin, then proceed with the requirements discussed above under Civil Code § 1951.3 and/or §1984.

Does a landlord need to tell future applicants about the death of the tenant?

A landlord is required to disclose the death of a prior tenant to rental applicants if the tenant died in the unit. Landlords must make this closure for the next three years after the death. (Civil Code § 1710.2) The landlord must disclose how the tenant died, if known, unless the tenant died of HIV/AIDS, then that does not need to be disclosed.

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The information in this post is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this post should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.


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