Just when your life finally feels stable and calm, you hear that your landlord has died. Since it is clear that ownership of the property will pass to someone else, you're likely to be worried about your future there. Who will inherit? Are they likely to sell? Can they kick you out? Will they have to honor your lease or month-to-month agreement? Your rights depend on the state in which you live and whether or not you have a written lease still in effect.
If your landlord dies, your rights depend on whether you have a lease in effect and what state you live in.
When You Have a Lease
A lease is a legal contract, signed by you and the landlord. In it, you both agree that you will rent the premises for a set amount of time for a given amount of money. For example, if you and the landlord signed an agreement a month before the death under which you agree to occupy the apartment for five years and pay $500 per month, you have a valid written lease that is still in effect.
While you may want to check your state laws, in most states the lease runs with the land. That means that nobody can kick you out for the length of the lease as long as you abide by the lease terms. Any heir or buyer must honor your lease for the entire five-year term or else buy you out if you accept the offer.
For example, in Florida, a tenant in an existing lease cannot be evicted just because the landlord dies and someone else inherits the property. The heirs take the property subject to the lease. If they sell the property to a third party, that party also takes it subject to the lease.
When You Don't Have an Active Written Lease
A lease gives you a legal right to live in a unit for a set period. If you don't have a written lease or if the term of the written lease is over, you are a month-to-month tenant. Under a month-to-month, either you or the landlord can end the tenancy with adequate notice. In Florida, the adequate notice can be as little as 15 days.
Parties taking over the property interests of the deceased landlord or legally acting for the landlord are required to give the tenant the same amount of notice that the landlord would have had to give to terminate the relationship.
To Whom Should You Pay Rent?
When a landlord dies, you can put the rent check into an escrow account at the bank until the new owner or the administrator of his estate contacts you. If you gave the landlord a security deposit, it will also be transferred to the estate administrator while probate is pending. Then that deposit is transferred to the heir who inherits. When you leave, it is this person who is obliged to return the security deposit to you. If no probate proceeding is filed, you may need to consult with an attorney to determine who you should pay the rent to, since if you pay the rent to the wrong person, it will not count toward your rental obligation.