Oregon landlords may face many difficult circumstances, but one of the most heart-wrenching and challenging can be when a tenant dies. Fortunately, Oregon law covers some aspects of this event, and others are up to your discretion.

Landlord best practices in the event of tenant death

The information below gives you some high-level understanding of what to do and what not to do when a tenant dies. For help with your specific situation or a better understanding of how the law applies to the situation you are working through, please contact Megan for a consultation.

Notify the authorities

For starters, if you as a landlord discovered that a tenant has passed away, your first step is to call 911. 

Notifying the authorities starts a process so that the right people come and address the situation. Law enforcement will also take care of notifying the deceased’s next of kin.

Secure the deceased’s personal property and your rental property

When a tenant dies and you as a landlord receive word that the tenant has died, securing the property is critical. The tenant’s death doesn’t end their lease. Both their personal property and your rental property need to be secured.

The unit may be locked and access restricted by you. A designated next of kin or other party prior authorized by the deceased in writing, or a court appointed Personal Representative or Affiant, can provide a death certificate proving the death of the tenant, as well as any authorization needed to prove that they have the right to gain access to the unit and the deceased’s personal property.

Wait for official confirmation of death and for authorization of who may legally access the property

It’s possible that the deceased tenant had laid out an estate plan with an executor, and they may have designated someone who is authorized to come to the property. However, for your protection, it can be best to wait until the official death certificate can be shown to you. Depending on what arrangements the deceased had, or had not, put in place, there may be an authorized estate representative ready to go, or that designation may need to be established by the court.

In other words, when a tenant dies, hold the property closed until you can see the death certificate and you have notice from the court on who may legally access the unit and process the deceased’s property. There may be friends, colleagues, family, or other associates of the deceased that you’re familiar with. However, if they aren’t officially recognized by the court and the estate as being authorized to access the property, they will need to be turned away.

For your protection and for the security of the deceased’s property, it’s best to only provide access to the unit to someone who can show they are authorized by the estate and the court to do so.

Death does not terminate the lease

The tenant’s lease continues despite death, and will transfer to the deceased’s estate. It’s common for the deceased’s family or the estate to make arrangements with the landlord to continue paying rent. This way you as the landlord continue receiving rent for the unit, and the people handling the estate have sufficient time to make arrangements to clear out the property.

Timelines will vary from situation to situation. Oregon law does not set a timeframe and instead defers to the terms of the lease. It’s common for the landlord and the estate to mutually agree to a timeframe, such as 90 days, with notice to terminate the tenancy under the terms of the lease.

Landlord prohibitions on property removal remain in force

Oregon law does not allow landlords to remove tenant property, except under limited circumstances, and that includes after the death of a tenant. Your responsibilities include securing the unit and the tenant’s property. Otherwise, it will be the responsibility of the estate to manage the processing and removal of the deceased tenant’s property.

Maintain communication with the executor or authorized representative

Naturally, you as a landlord will want to ensure that the property is being processed in a timely manner. When the time comes, you’ll be able to clean, reset, and rent out the unit to a new tenant. Consistent, timely communication with the executor or authorized representative can help this process go more smoothly. It also keeps everyone on the same page about expectations, and gives both parties the chance to work through problems.

Keep written records of all interactions and matters related to the deceased tenant and your property

Estates and probate take time to play out. Any time you have communication with the deceased’s representatives, make written notes about when and with whom the communication happened. Also jot down a summary of what was discussed.

Once removal and cleaning are concluded, mutually sign a release to the rights of possession

In time, the deceased’s property will be cleared out and cleaning will be concluded. Once the unit is in move-out condition, the estate representative can mutually sign a release to the rights of possession with you. This document essentially sets down that both parties understand that:

  • The tenant no longer occupies the property
  • The deceased’s property has been removed
  • The lease has been terminated
  • The property may be rented to another tenant

Any returned deposit may be paid out to the estate

In Oregon, estates take at least five months to be settled and concluded. Seven to nine months is more common. By the time the lease has terminated, odds are the deposit will be paid to the deceased’s estate. The personal representative can advise on how to set up the payment.

Your landlord insurance may have provisions pertaining to tenant death

The death of a tenant can be a tricky situation. The deceased may or may not have had an estate plan. There could be disagreements or problems from within the surviving family or other parties. Communication might be poor or nonexistent. Rent owed might not be paid, or other problems might arise that result in out-of-pocket costs from you.

It’s a good idea to check your landlord insurance policy. It may contain provisions about tenant death and potential coverage.

The death of a tenant can be handled with consideration for you as the landlord and with the deceased’s estate

These situations can get tricky and challenging. It’s useful to understand the process, or gain insight into a situation that has you concerned.

No matter the circumstances, the death of a tenant can be a shock. With clear communication, patience, and an understanding of the legal process, you can protect your property. You can also protect your rights as a landlord, while working with the estate. You can constructively and legally deal with the situation when a tenant dies.