Do You Need to Disclose a Previous Tenant’s Death?

Home buyer protection planning concept with house key in insurance broker agent's hand coverage or in salesman person

Most landlords are aware of the disclosures they have to make about lead paint or mold, but what about a death at a rental property? Depending on your state or municipal laws, you may be required to disclose whether there’s been a death on the premises. Failure to follow your state or local guidelines could incur expensive fines, so it’s important to understand what you’re required to legally disclose before a tenant signs the lease.

Should You Disclose a Death at the Property?

Before we explore the legal issues surrounding death disclosure, should you disclose that one occurred, even if you’re not legally required to?

If there are no laws on tenant death disclosure in your area, it’s ultimately up to you to decide. In general, it’s best to give your tenants as much information about the property as you can and to be as upfront as possible. If a tenant asks a direct question about whether there has been a death at the property, you should answer honestly.

Although your answer may be off-putting to some tenants, there’s a chance that they could learn about the death another way in the future. If they find out after they’ve already signed the lease, they may feel you were being dishonest, which could add strain to your relationship with them, even if you were acting within your legal rights.

If the death happened within the last five years and you owned the property at the time, it’s generally a good idea to at least offer a vague disclosure to potential tenants. Being upfront and honest can prevent future issues and gives you the chance to address any questions or concerns the prospective tenant may have.

The Psychologically Impacted Property

A tenant’s death typically doesn’t affect the physical condition of a property beyond potential cleaning and repairs, but many states recognize such dwellings as having an emotional and psychological impact on the residents.

If a homicide, suicide, or other violent death occurred on a property, that information alone could be enough for a prospective tenant to decide they have no interest in living there—even if there’s nothing physically wrong with the home. This can understandably make it more difficult to find tenants for the rental, which can make some landlords consider not disclosing the death at all. As previously mentioned, though, keeping the death a secret could cause potential problems if the tenant somehow finds out.

Instead of hiding information about the death, it’s better to focus on finding tenants who understand that it occurred and the property has moved past the unfortunate event. To help interested renters feel more comfortable, you can let them know about any remodeling you’ve done since the former tenant passed. This can give the property a bit of a refresh in the eyes of many tenants.

Are You Required to Disclose a Death at Your Property?

Whether you’re required to disclose a death at your property comes down to your state laws; there’s no federal law requiring this type of disclosure as there is with lead-based paint. In some states, a landlord isn’t required to disclose a death, while others require landlords to disclose that a tenant died and in some cases, how the death occurred.

If you’re not sure if you’re required to disclose a death, it’s a good idea to find out. Even if you have never experienced death at one of your properties, knowing what’s expected of you to disclose can be helpful in the future.

The laws surrounding death disclosures can vary quite a bit, so here’s a look at how three states handle the issue:

  • California
    The California Civil Code requires landlords to voluntarily disclose any deaths that occurred at their properties within the past three years. You cannot provide personal information, like the previous tenant’s identity, occupation, family, or lifestyle—only that the death occurred and basic information about the cause. If a tenant asks whether there have been any deaths at the property prior to the past three years, you must provide that information, but it’s not required for you to voluntarily disclose it.
  • Georgia
    In Georgia, landlords are required to answer direct questions about death on the property truthfully, but they aren’t required to voluntarily disclose it. They must also disclose the nature of the death, such as whether it was natural, accidental, homicide, or suicide.
  • Oregon
    Oregon law doesn’t require landlords to disclose the death of a former tenant at the property. It also states that no cause of action will be taken against a property owner who fails to disclose a death.

What if your state doesn’t have specific regulations on the matter? It’s essentially up to you to decide whether you’d like to share the information with prospective tenants. However, most landlords generally choose to disclose minimal information about tenant deaths that occurred within the last few years.

Unless required by state laws, you’re not required to disclose the death in writing. Most of the time, a verbal disclosure is enough.

How to Discuss a Previous Tenant’s Death

Death is an uncomfortable subject for many people, so how should you go about having a discussion about a previous tenant’s death with potential tenants? Here are a few tips:

  • Be honest
    If a tenant asks you whether there’s been a death on the property or they want to know what happened, answer their questions honestly. It’s not necessary to give them a lot of information, but avoid lying or evading their questions.
  • Avoid going into detail
    While you should answer questions honestly, avoid going into too much detail. There’s some information that should definitely not be disclosed, such as the former tenant’s personal information or other inappropriate details. This doesn’t mean that you need to lie; you can simply inform the prospective tenant that the information they’re asking for is private and that you’re unable to share it. Let them know you can give them basic information, such as whether the death was natural, accidental, or violent, and anything else that’s essential for them to know.
  • Focus on improvements and changes made to the property
    Sometimes it can be difficult for landlords to find new tenants after a violent death at their property. One way to attract potential tenants is to make renovations or improvements. Prospective tenants who are asking questions about the former tenant’s death are much more likely to be interested in your property if they can understand what you’ve done to change things up. This can help them see your rental as a refreshed home and may reduce the psychological impact of what happened there.
  • Be Prepared
    If you’re concerned about prospective tenants asking questions about death at your property, it’s helpful to be prepared. Figure out what you’re going to say, what information you should share, and how you’re going to talk about the incident.
  • Refer them to the officials
    If a prospective tenant is asking too many questions or seems overly curious about the history of your rental, your best course of action may be to direct them to the local officials to submit a public request for more information. Keep in mind that although you should be honest when answering questions, you’re likely only required to give the bare minimum of information.

What Should You Do if a Tenant Dies at a Rental Property?

If you’re currently dealing with a situation where a tenant has died on your property, you may be wondering what steps you need to take.

Keep in mind that just because a tenant dies doesn’t mean the tenancy is automatically terminated. This means that once you’re cleared to re-enter the property, you’re not allowed to start clearing out the former tenant’s belongings. Some state laws require that the tenancy be passed on to the next of kin in some circumstances.

Typically, a written notice of a tenant’s death serves as a 30-day notice but in some situations, the lease may continue until it’s officially terminated. During this time, the tenant’s estate will be responsible for rent payments. The executor of the estate is typically the one who will contact you in order to secure the property, remove belongings, and end the tenancy.

It’s common for family members to want to enter the rental and start removing items right away, but you should make an inventory of what’s there and what’s been removed. This is because some family members may not have the legal right to take belongings, and you have an obligation to prevent potential theft.

After the property has been cleared of all belongings and the tenancy has been terminated, you should determine how much of the security deposit to return to the estate. Once this is done, you can start making changes to the property and begin searching for new tenants.

Landlords Property Managers Contact TSCI