To those of us who have not experienced it, the death of one of our tenants is not something we often consider. However, it can happen, and is something that landlords ought to be prepared for.
It will invariably be difficult for the tenant’s family, cohabitees and often the landlord themselves. If a tenant should pass away during a tenancy, it is helpful to know what your rights and obligations are and what will happen to the tenancy.
Succession law for private tenancies
Joint tenants who remain in the property have an automatic right to continue with the tenancy; you should contact them to see if they wish to do so. This will count as a succession to the tenancy, though you may wish to negotiate a new tenancy agreement. If they do not wish to remain in the property, then they need to give notice in the usual manner.
If they do not continue with the tenancy, the best course of action will likely be to contact the executor of your tenant’s estate (or the court-appointed administrator in the instance that there is no appointed or acting executor) and advise that your tenant’s next of kin need to collect or dispose of your tenant’s belongings.
This is generally a difficult time, and you should consider granting 14 days or more for this. When the process has finished, ask your tenant’s next of kin to sign a letter saying that they have removed everything they wish to. Take the keys as normal and return the deposit to your tenant’s executor or administrator to be managed along with the remainder of their estate.
In the case of a sole tenancy
A tenancy will end if the sole occupant passes away; however, the often complex laws of succession might still apply.
An assured shorthold tenancy that is still in its fixed term may be left to another person in a will. If your tenant did not leave a will, their will was legally invalid, or if the will did not mention the tenancy, then the rules of ‘intestacy’ apply, meaning that the tenancy may still pass to the next of kin. This will generally be a spouse, civil partner or child, though parents, siblings, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews can also be covered by intestate law.
In the case of a periodic tenancy, an eligible person may succeed to the tenancy if they have lived in the property for at least 12 months, if the property is their main or only home and if there have been no prior successions. In this case, you are still allowed to apply for possession in the normal manner by giving two months’ notice.
If your tenant has no next of kin
If your tenant has no next of kin, you should return the deposit and notice of the termination of the tenancy to the executor or administrator of your tenant’s estate, along with notice that your tenant’s belongings should be collected. Use your inventory form to confirm which belongings are your tenant’s.
When this process has concluded, the tenancy is over and the property can be re-let as normal.
How succession laws apply to other types of tenancy
Though assured shorthold tenancies are by far the most common type of private tenancy in the UK, there are others. Succession laws apply to other types of tenancy as follows:
Assured tenancies work in much the same way as assured shorthold tenancies; however, you only have a right to repossess the property if the tenant or tenants who live in the property after the death of your tenant do not have a right to succeed to the tenancy, and if you commence proceedings within 12 months of the death of your original tenant. As succession law is complex, we recommend that you get legal advice in this instance.
Regulated tenancies can be succeeded by a spouse, civil partner or cohabitee who lived in the property at the time of the tenant’s death. If there is no such individual, another member of the tenant’s family who lived in the property for at least two years prior to the death can succeed to the tenancy.
In the former instance, the tenancy remains regulated; in the latter, it becomes an assured tenancy.
Dealing with bereavement
Though you are running a business, it is important to remain sympathetic to your tenant’s next of kin. Where possible, you should deal with the executor or administrator; if you do need to talk to the next of kin directly, try to avoid being insensitive or pressuring them into making any decisions.
The best thing to do is to be aware of what your duties are as a landlord and to carry them out, helping to resolve the situation more quickly and easily. If in doubt at any point of your rights and obligations, or the law surrounding the passing of a private tenant, be sure to contact a legal professional.