It happens. Tenants pass away. As a landlord it can be devastating to lose a tenant, particularly a long-term beloved tenant. But what do you do when a tenant dies? First, take a deep breath. Second, hopefully you have an emergency contact in your lease agreement. If so, you have an individual to contact and if it is properly worded in your lease, someone to clear out the unit. (We are of course happy to review your lease regarding an emergency contact.) If the emergency contact has passed away or you can’t reach the emergency contact, are there any family members or neighbors you can reach out to? Other than an emergency contact, the only individual you should allow to collect the tenant’s personal belongings is the Personal Representative of the Estate or, in the case of a Trust, a Trustee or Successor Trustee. Ask family members or friends if probate has been started. If so, ask for the Letters of the Personal Representative. This document indicates who has been placed in charge of the estate. This is the person responsible for collecting the tenant’s personal belongings. If the tenant has a trust, the Trustee or Successor Trustee would be responsible for collecting belongings.
Often a child will come and want to come into the unit to collect the tenant’s personal property. Unless the child is the emergency contact or the Personal Representative or a Trustee, they are not entitled to take the tenant’s assets and personal property.
What if the Tenant does not have a current emergency contact, family members, or anyone who claims to be a Personal Representative or Trustee? Under Arizona Law you need to hold the tenant’s personal property for 14 days after you receive possession back. This may need to be done through court action. After 14 days under Arizona law you may donate the personal property if there is not an estate or other individual available claiming to be proceeding with Probate. That said, we always recommend holding family photos or other irreplaceable mementos a bit longer if possible.