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Landlord Issues: Death or Unit Abandonment

December 12, 2019

Expect Unexpected Circumstances at your Property

As an apartment landlord, you may encounter unexpected circumstances such as unit abandonment, death and/or incarceration of one of your residents.

In these cases, you may need to perform your best judgement while following property management policy and procedure in order to mitigate your risk and liability.

Below are possible factors that may indicate unit abandonment:

  • You haven’t seen the resident for a period of time
  • Rent has been unpaid for 14 consecutive days and the resident hasn’t responded to notices
  • Notices posted on the unit door haven’t been removed 
  • The unit is vacant and utilities has been turned off

3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

As a property management practice, if rent hasn’t been received by the fifth of the month, you should proceed to serve a 3 Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. If the rent hasn’t been received by the end of the 3 Day notice period and the resident hasn’t contacted the landlord or management, one may conduct a Wellness Check by knocking on the unit door and saying: “Wellness Check by Management”.

Death in One of Your Rental Units

If a death is suspected in the unit, this is considered an emergency check in which landlord or management can enter the unit without prior notice. It is highly recommended that you contact local law enforcement for assistance or advice before you enter the unit.

If a body is not in the unit and most of the personal belongings are not there, it’s a good indicator that the tenants have abandoned the unit. In this situation, the landlord or property manager should proceed to post and mail a Notice of Belief of Abandonment.

Tenant Abandons the Rental Unit

The Notice of Belief of Abandonment will give the household to respond within 15 days after the notice has been served personally or 18 days after the notice is deposited in the mail.

If the household chooses to respond, they must state their intent not to abandon the real property. And they must have an address for serving by certified mail in any action for unlawful detainer of the real property in writing.

The Notice of Belief of Abandonment also requires the household to pay the rent due and unpaid rent on the real property as required by the lease agreement. Failure to do so may lead to court proceedings against the household.

If death occurs in the unit, landlord or management should immediately contact police who may coordinate with the county’s coroner’s office. It is critical that landlord or property manager do not release any possessions or personal properties to a third party, for instance family members, relatives or someone named on the emergency contact list due to potential liability issues.

It is recommended that you contact the County Public Administrator for assistance in dealing with the situation. In the meantime, no one, including landlord or management should enter the unit until it’s released by sheriff or coroner’s office.

Resident Disappears and Hasn’t Paid Rent

If a resident has been incarcerated or hospitalized and his/her rent has been unpaid for a long period of time, landlord or management may terminate the tenancy. However, before they proceed with lease termination, management should attempt to reach the household and identify if they plan to vacate the unit and authorize a person to clear any personal items in the unit.

Most importantly, as in all property management legal documentation, ensure all conversations are documented in writing. Designate a witness when releasing personal belongings to a third party.

All of the above are bound to happen to most landlords and property managers at some if you are managing apartment buildings.  The variety of issues makes it vital that you handle landlord risk and liability management professionally.


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