Sometimes I get so caught up in the numbers side of owning a duplex that I forget my units are someone’s home.
As someone’s home, it’s a place where life happens. All aspects of life. People fall in love and get married. They have children. Get divorced. They dream and hope there, endure disappointments, get sick, get well, and on occasion, even die there.
Death is as much a part of life as everything else. I was reminded of that this week.
In my 24 years of rental property ownership, I’ve had three deaths. With each one, I learn something important.
The first was a suicide. It happened within 6 hours of my closing on the property. Looking back, I wish I’d handled it differently. And I am grateful I know better now.
So what should you do in the event you are concerned about the welfare of someone who lives in your property?
What happens when you, the landlord, simply suspect something is wrong with your tenant?
The first step is obvious; try to contact the tenant. I called and knocked on the door.
As I was concerned for my resident’s welfare, I did, at that point, have the right to enter his unit to check on him. However, due to evidence suggesting he had, in fact, passed away, I looked instead for emergency contact information on the lease. The lease I inherited from the previous owner did not have anyone to reach out to. Had there been a contact name and number, I would have called that individual to ask whether they had spoken with the tenant or knew his or her whereabouts.
Again, at that time, I had the right to enter his apartment per Minnesota state law. Due to the strong odor emanating from his unit, however, I chose opted to contact the non-emergency line for the police department.
They confirmed my suspicions. My tenant had simply gone to sleep and not woken up perhaps as much as a week earlier. Of course, they wanted to notify next of kin. And I had nothing.
After they left, I was left with two challenges. The first was to take immediate steps to reduce the odor. Apparently, this isn’t as easy as opening a few windows. In fact, the coroner left behind detailed instructions of the health protocols for properly remediating the building and names of professionals I could call.
This is an enormous expense – literally thousands of dollars. Odors can linger for months. So walls need to be washed. Rooms fumigated. Surfaces cleaned. Biohazards properly disposed of. Walls and ceilings may also need to be painted and perhaps even carpet or flooring may need to be removed and replaced.
Here’s the good news. Insurance usually pays for it.
As for telling the family? The police can take care of it, and in the event you don’t have contact information, they can track them down.
Compassion should be the rule when dealing with the tenant’s family. I imagined how I would want to be treated in similar circumstances and have acted accordingly. And while technically, the estate is still bound by law to continue paying rent for the duration of the lease, most landlords simply want to be able to turn the unit and find another resident.
What about the resident’s belongings? As in an eviction, the landlord is responsible for storing the items for 28 days. Efforts must be made to notify the tenant’s heirs, and if they don’t retrieve the belongings, the landlord may sell them and apply the revenue toward storage fees.
Life, in all its phases, is part and parcel of owning rental property. As a landlord, and a human being, we get to experience them all.