Landlord Checklist: What do you do when your resident passes on?

You may probably think that from the blog title that we mean when the resident moves out of your apartment to live in another domain.

Well, actually, in this case, we mean it quite literally. What we are writing about are some of the steps, concerns, and dilemmas you may run into when your resident passes away in the premises they rent from you.

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause: there’s the respect”.

  • Hamlet Act 3

I knew this was going to happen

No body ever thinks about this when you are renting an apartment or singing the rental agreement. But we all have a 100% mortality rate. Let’s face it. None of us are getting out of here alive and you know it’s going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully, it will be the later. So what can you do to prepare for the inevitable if someone passes away in your rental while they are your resident?

Over the next several sections we will cover some of the details you should consider in the event of an unattended death, or otherwise death event, that may happen at the property.

The Incident

No one ever expects to the call that someone has passed away in the rental unit. But it does happen. In seventeen years of professional property management for over 200+ units we have had five (5) deaths at the properties we manage. The first one caught us totally unprepared without a plan. Fortunately, is was not an unattended death, and there were other family members living in the rental unit to care for the needs of the deceased.

The most recent, was an unattended death and we were able to attend to the needs to the family, the deceased, the landlord, and the property without any undue complications. It is our hope in the reading of this article you may approach this event a little better prepared then we were on that first call.

Police Department

If there is a death at your rental, probably the first call you are going to receive is from the local Police Department. They will inform you of what happened at the property and inform you on the next steps you will need to do to secure the property. If no one has seen the resident for a while, or a family member has not heard from them, or you have not received rents and the mail is overflowing from the mailbox, then it might be time to call the police to do a wellness check at the rental unit.

This wellness check call will usually occur first in the event of an unattended death. It is always a good idea during the cold winter months or when there is an extreme heat wave to check in on your elderly residents. It is a good way to ensure they are safe and doing well. These folks are usually lonely too so having someone give them a call to check on them can go a long way to make them feel a little less shut in and isolated. It is also good business to keep a healthy rapport with your residents too.

If there was a death event, after a few days when everything has settled down after the check in, you can go to the local police department to pull a public police report to get more information about the incident. Do no expect to get too much here except that there was actually a call, where and when it happened, and a brief description of what call was for. If there was a death, expect for any names to be blacked out from the report.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT)

 The police will do a wellness check, or for some other reason be called to the property, and if needed, they will call for an ambulance to come to the building. An EMT, or ambulance will be the department that will declare the time of death and actually take care of the deceased body. The EMT’s will come and secure the body then bring it to the morgue. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA; Pub.L. 104–191, 110 Stat. 1936, enacted August 21, 1996) do not expect to get much information from the EMT report on what happened or what was the cause of death.

Unless you are a family member or next of kin, there are HIPAA restrictions on the information that you are allowed to have access to as the landlord or property manager. As a landlord, you probably want to know if it was a drug-related incident, but do not expect that information to be available to you under HIPAA. We want to have compassion for the deceased, but we also need to maintain the property for the remaining residents to ensure that we are doing our job to provide a drug-free environment for their families.

Fire Department

It is also typical that the fire department will also be dispatched to the property at the same time as the EMTs. This is good. Whereas you will not be able to get the report from the EMT under HIPAA, the fire department will be able to provide you with a report that they were dispatched to the property and may probably have a brief one-line description of what the call was for. For instance, the report may read, “Dispatched for unattended death”. Really, this is all you want right now. You may not have all of the answers yet, but what you are really trying to do is build a paper trail to create a snap shot of what happened at the property.

Hazmat Teams

If it has been a while before the resident went unnoticed or reported missing, and the wellness check came after a longer period of time, or if there was a death by misadventure where blood was spilled, then you must hire a Hazmat Crew before anyone can be allowed into the building. This means you too. Blood and other bodily fluids are Hazmat materials and must be handles by professionals.

This can be a very time-consuming and expensive process. If the police department has deemed this to be a crime scene, or if there was a deceased body for some time and has begun to decompose, then they will instruct you what to do and who to call for a Hazmat crew. When we got our call for the unattended death that had been there for over one month, we were instructed to call The Hazmat crew assigned to our building was great. They were able to keep us informed every step along the way and answered all of our questions. In a situation where everyone is wondering what happened and has questions about it, it was great to actually be able to turn to someone who was able to provide answers.

This put us in a unique position to be able to disseminate information to everyone involved in the process. We were able to keep the landlord in the loop for what was happen at their property. We were able to give some comfort and support to the family who was still grieving their loss. And we were able to give critical information to the insurance provider to exactly what types and the extent of the damages we were encountering as the Hazmat crew secured the property. If a Hazmat crew is called in to secure the property, it is a great idea to have read your insurance policy first. You may find that the Hazmat crew, the needed repairs, and the lost rents, may all be covered under your insurance policy. This will allow you to be a bit more generous with the time for the family to work out the details to empty the apartment. A major win-win-win from the Hazmat team!

The Deceased

As a property manager one of your top assets is your people skills and how well you can communicate with people. You need to be at the top of your game when having the following conversations. This phase of the event will have you working very closely with the family, the property owners, and the scores of contractors who may be involved with the process depending upon the amount of damages to the property.

Contacting the family

This has got to be the most difficult part of the process. Having to have the difficult conversation is never easy. Compound that with the fact that this is an income property that could be tied up for quite some time not generating any rent can heighten the anxiety and tensions between the landlord and the family. This is a good time to have compassion with all parties and, well, be a bit more human and understanding. We will all at one time in our life lose a loved one, or may have already in the past. This is the time to put your best foot forward and do the best you can for the grieving family. By the way, try to keep in mind that all of the lost rents may be covered under your insurance policy. That will allow you to be more generous with the clean out time you will eventually negotiate for the family.

Did the deceased live with Family?

This is probably the least stressful scenario for you. Maybe not so much for the family who will feel the stress from living in the environment where they just lost their loved one. From your end there is not too much to do. The family probably found the deceased. They called the police, EMTs, and other emergency first-responders. And now, they live in the space where all of this happened and have the daily reminder by continuing to live there. Do not be too surprised if a few months or even weeks down the road you receive a notice that the family wants to move. Try to understand here and work with them to help them relocate.

Did they live alone?

This is probably the hardest situation you may need to deal with in the passing of a resident. You now have a unit full of your previous resident’s personal belongings, a rental unit you cannot possibly rent in the very near future, and a family in shock without any plan on how to care for their loved one’s personal belongings. Even worse. What if they lived alone and you have no idea who to contact in case of an emergency? You may need to petition the court and pay for storage to even get possession back for the property you own. This situation can present quite a few moving parts you are going to need t consider. If you cannot find anyone at all you may be on the hook to pay for the storage of the personal belongings for a period of 3 months. 

The Property

At this phase of the event, we have secured the property, have signed off on the hazmat crew, attended to the needs of the family, have an idea of what the next steps are to remove the personal belongings, and are ready to start to put the pieces back together again. These are some of the steps and considerations you may need to deal with moving forward to get your apartment back into your rental inventory.

Insurance Policy

I am sure that you have read and are well versed with the fine print in your insurance policy and know all of the details for filing a claim and totally understand what is covered, what is not, and what your deductible is for a claim. What’s that you say? You don’t even know where your copy of the policy is stored let alone what is says in the fine print? Well there is no time like right now to dust off your policy, put on a pot of coffee and start reading.

How else will you know if you are even covered for such an event as this? My hat is off to the landlord who was able to get me a copy of their policy within 24 hours of the first call I received from the police department to inform me of the death at the unit. At the same time I was coordinating all of the other moving parts, our landlord client was able to file the claim and scan in a PDF copy for their own private insurance adjuster.

Some landlords consider insurance as the necessary evil involved with owning rental property. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to have a good relationship with your insurance representative and have the discussion up front before you write the policy. Then you can relax knowing exactly what type of coverage you have and what to do when calamity strikes.

Insurance Adjuster

At the same time you may find yourself calling a Hazmat team to remove the remains and secure the property, you will also be calling a private insurance adjuster to get them involved with the process for filing an insurance claim. When there is an event like this at the property and you are 100% sure you will file a claim, you must hire the professional services of a private insurance adjuster. They will present the case to your insurance company’s adjuster to get you the highest possible reimbursement for the damages to your property.

Your insurance company will always send out their own insurance adjuster to appraise the situation. Keep in mind that the insurance company’s adjuster works for them, not you. It is in their best and highest interest to settle the claim as quickly as possible and to pay out the minimum amount needed to make you whole again. But beware. Once you sign off on the claim, that’s it. The insurance company will not pay out a penny more than what you have agreed to in the settlement.

This is why hiring your own private adjuster is so important. Sure they typically charge you a percentage of the claim, but the claim they will file with your insurance company well exceeds the amount your insurance company is going to offer you. Not only will hiring a private adjuster pay for their fees, but they will get you a lot more for the damages than meets the eye at first glance.

For example: our last unattended death was there for quite some time and required a Hazmat crew. As you can imagine, the smell was pretty bad. Where the insurance company’s adjuster absolutely agreed that the carpet in that room needed to be removed, sub flooring removed and encapsulated; the private adjuster looked at the project through a much broader scope. Because the smell infiltrated all clothing, cloth, carpets, and porous materials, the private adjuster made the argument that the claim should also include the removal of all cloth surfaces, carpets, drop tile ceilings, and entirely painting the whole apartment with two coats of primer to remove the odors. What could have been a couple thousand dollar claim resulted in well over $20,000 dollars to make the apartment right again.

Lost Rents

Not too many people catch this detail either, but as soon as there is a death, the property stops generating income although the property is still fully occupied by the remaining personal effects of the deceased. Where does all of that missing rent come from if no one is around to pay? Well, a good insurance adjuster will catch this detail too in the fine print of your insurance policy. Most policies will cover lost rents, but are you 100% sure your policy does? Better find out now and pay a small insurance premium then lose thousands of dollars later while the family is still trying to make tough decisions that tie up the use of the property.

In our case, the lost rents did not take effect until we actually filed the claim. So what could have been 4 months lost rent was actually only 3 months because of the date on the claim. It could have been even worse if we did not have the private adjuster pleading our case for us. Yes, $2,100 for a $700 dollars per month apartment was not as much as the $2,800 in lost rents. But $2,100 dollars in lost rents was much better than if we did not know enough to ask for it.


Finally, we are ready to make the apartment right again. Now at least we have a budget to work with for removing carpets, painting, and have permission from the family to start filling dumpsters with the rest of the unclaimed personal belongings of the deceased. At this stage we now assume the posture of a renovation to make ready the apartment to get it back into healthy rental inventory. The main craftsmen needed here are painters, flooring specialist, and a few sorted handy men to pull the last few pieces of the project back together to finish the apartment and get it rented.

The timelines here are back into a familiar territory for us. We live in a world of make ready apartments, painting, cabinets and flooring; so from here out in the project we should be a lot more comfortable waters and charting a steady course to receiving regularly paid rents again.

The Documentation

So there are some of the decisions you may need to address if you get the call that your resident has passed away unexpectedly. Of course, you will be better prepared and be a lot more humane having a piece of mind that you know what to expect and can be a comfort to the family of the deceased along the journey on this unanticipated path. This article, we hope has prepared you for what to do in the event of an untimely death. But where the preparation should really begin is way before the resident even moves into the rental apartments. Let’s take a look at what some of the steps are to have you prepared to take action should the need ever arise.

Get it in writing

Our insurance adjuster once again saved the day on this detail. When we first met with the family he suggested that we have an earnest talk with the surviving family members to try to put a time line on when things needed to take place and just how long they may need to occupy the unit to sort out the personal belongings of their loved one.

That is exactly what we did. Be generous here with the time. The family is already grieving and having to make tough decisions. Try to be as flexible as possible as you can with the family to allow them all of the time they need to sort through all of the details, and the personal belongings. We negotiated 60 days for the family to go through the personal belongings. After which time, the family agreed in writing that the rest of the belongings could be discarded with no further recourse to the landlord or the management.

Also, because we got it in writing, this gave us the documentation needed to approach the insurance company for a claim on lost rents. Because the family indicated the time needed, we were able to justify asking for uncollected rents up until that point in time on our insurance claim.

“In the event of…” Clause

Since we had the passing of a single resident at the apartment building with no one to care for them or their belongings, we have added a clause to all of our leases and rental agreements. It is a somber note to end the lease signing on, but a very necessary step in the process. You can only imagine the joy of getting through the lease document, handing over the keys, and preparing the new resident for the beginning of a new adventure living in your rental community; then have to pull out the final clause for them to name the next of kin in the event of their unlikely demise. Way to end the lease signing party in a hurry. But after we explain to them why this is so necessary it becomes just another part of the lease that will show them that we have done our best to prepare for just about any type of emergency that will occur down the road, now that they are part of our rental community.

In the simplest form, this clause is added to the lease for each person of an adult age. In the supplied spaces on the rental agreement, each adult will first list their name, then, in the supplied spaces below they will name their next of kin that they will authorize entry into the apartment should any unforeseen circumstances arise during their residency with us. Finally, they list the contact information of their designated authorized family member or friend they wish to gain entry the apartment. Should the unforeseen occur, this written document will permit us to allow the named party access to gather the belongings and empty the apartment.

Starting at the ending

Now that we have looked at all of the details that happen “after” the fact, let’s come up with a solid plan for contingencies upfront just in case. We have provided you below with a sample outline of the steps that we have covered in this article. We hope that our hindsight will assist you in moving forward with a plan to care for your residents even after they can no longer care for themselves.

The Plan

Contingency Plan Checklist for Death Loss in your rental:

  1. Your insurance policy clause:
    Read your insurance policy to know what it covers and what your deductible is. This way you can be better prepared when an event occurs. You do not want to be looking for your policy to find out what it says when time is of the essence. It may also be a good idea to have an insurance adjuster review your policy for your. They read these all the time and can inform you if there are any gaps in your coverage. You also need to know your deductible, just in case.
  2. Your rental policy clause:
    By now you should be thinking of possible verbiage to cover any contingencies and have them put in your rental agreement. The basic items would be:

    • The name of resident signing the lease
    • A brief authorization form to cover the details, type of death, permission to enter, etc.
    • The name of the person authorized to enter and remove personal belongings
    • The contact information for the authorized person who may enter and retrieve the personal belongings
    • If possible a time frame in writing to identify the length of time to clear the apartment
  3. I. C.E. (In Case of Emergency) Surviving Family Residents:
    It is a great idea from the very start of the rental application process to have the applicant indicate who you should contact in case of an emergency. This has multiple purposes. There are application clauses that even list this I.C.E. person as responsible to pay the rent, should the rent not be paid by the resident. At least, you will have a number to call in the event of having to empty out the apartment in case of death.
  4. Unattended deaths:
    There are several scenarios to consider here. Deaths can be natural, accidental, unintended, intended, or otherwise. The emphasis here is to build a contingency plan and an action list in case the worse case scenario happens. If you prepare for the worst and then the worst happens, you were prepared. If nothing happens, you were even better prepared.
  5. Deaths from misadventure:
    This is where the death event is caused by some more unfortunate circumstances. We live in a day and age where we are encouraged to carry Zarcan and know how to administer it in case of any emergency. Some neighborhoods are more prone to crime and violence and this can be a negative factor to take into consideration too. In addition to your contingency plan and action list items, you may need to expand the reach of that list to include emergency numbers for overdoses, and other crimes, and illegal activity.
  6. Police Department:
    For all of your properties, you should know the phone number for your local law enforcement agencies. These numbers should be presets in your cell phones too. Within one or two clicks on your cell phone or other smart device, you should be in touch with local authorities within seconds. When you are in the heat of any emergency and your nerves may be shot, is not the time to be browsing in a search engine to find the phone number for the police.
  7. EMT:
    The same holds true for having preset numbers for ambulances and other first responders. Wherever you rental market may be, there are probably two or three ambulance services that respond to emergency calls. Again, it is a good idea to do the research upfront and have the conversation with the emergency personnel before it becomes a time critical situation. It is always easier to ask the tough questions in a relaxed, calm environment, than before  time where seconds matter most.
  8. Fire Department:
    Fire, flood, blood, heat or hot water. These are the major emergencies we end up dealing with in the day to day of property management. Always a good idea to post the number for the fire department at your building and to keep these numbers stored in the presets of your phone as well. Make sure your residents know to call the fire department instead of you if there is a fire.
  9. Hazmat Teams:
    Blood is a hazardous material and chances are you are not authorized or licensed to deal with the clean up of blood and other human bodily fluids. Have a phone number on hand for just these types of emergencies. Your local police department should be able to provide you with contact information to help you find a reliable, licensed Hazmat team.
  10. Insurance adjuster:
    If you have an insurance policy, you should also have a phone number to a good private insurance adjuster. You should periodically have your insurance adjuster review your insurance policy to make sure what you think you have for coverage, it what you really have for coverage. If you are anything like me, I am sure when you bought your property you were more concerned about getting the binder in time for the closing then when the policy actually said it covered.

Other than being a somewhat grim topic to cover for discussion, it is a great idea to have a action plan in place before you have to plan to take action. I hope you have gleaned some valuable information out of this article to help you cross those difficult bridges when tough decisions need to be made. The best advice I can give you is to think about your own operations and see where you might be able to improve your systems.

The goal is to be well-equipped to deal with death in your properties when it happens. The main take away from this article is to be prepared. You are not going to have all of the answers when unexpected things like this happen in your property, but having a action plan in place and a checklist list for those scenarios, is a good place to start when you get the call and discover your resident is checking out of your apartment for their final curtain call.

Do you have any other ideas on this topic you could share to help our online community? Please chime in to share a comment or review. All feedback is welcomed!

Warmest regards,

Brian Lucier
Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
(978) 448-0669 office

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