The unexpected death of a tenant can be a daunting and challenging situation for landlords. In Texas, there are specific laws and provisions that dictate how these circumstances should be handled, especially when it comes to ending leases and handling personal property. This article will focus on the guidelines set by the Texas Property Code and the Texas Association of Realtors (TAR) Residential Lease to assist landlords in navigating these unanticipated events. The TAR Residential Lease is the most common lease used for single-family housing in Texas.
Terminating the Lease for a Sole Occupant
If a tenant, who was the sole occupant of a rental property, unfortunately passes away before the expiration of their lease, their estate representative has the right to terminate the lease prematurely. The representative is required to:
- Provide written notice to the landlord under Section 92.0162 of the Texas Property Code.
- Ensure the deceased tenant’s property is removed in accordance with Section 92.014 of the Property Code.
- If asked by the landlord, sign an inventory of the removed property.
Termination of the lease becomes effective on the later of two dates: a) 30 days after the notice under Section 92.0162 was given. b) The date on which all the conditions outlined in Section 92.0162 have been satisfied.
While Paragraph 28 of the TAR Lease states that a lease will not be terminated due to death, it does recognize an exception in Paragraph 34 G for the death of sole occupants as per the above-stated property code.
Handling Personal Property and Security Deposit
The TAR Lease, in Paragraph 34 Section F, permits a designated person (in the event all occupants over 18 die) to:
- Access the property at reasonable times in the landlord’s presence.
- Remove the tenant’s personal property.
- Accept the security deposit refund, minus any appropriate deductions.
Section 92.014 of the Property Code provides further guidance on the procedures to follow regarding a deceased tenant’s personal property and security deposit.
Multiple Occupant and Other Situations
While the code and lease are clear about handling situations involving a sole occupant or the death of all occupants, they leave several questions unanswered for scenarios involving multiple occupants and situations where a tenant may fail to designate a representative prior to death. Some of these pressing questions include:
- How is the personal property of a tenant with roommates or other occupants managed?
- What portion of the security deposit is owed to the estate of the deceased tenant in a multi-occupant scenario?
- How does a landlord verify or deal with a personal representative of the tenant’s estate?
Paragraph 33. C. of the TAR Lease emphasizes that all tenants are jointly and severally liable for the lease provisions. This means if one tenant dies, the landlord can continue to collect and hold other tenants accountable for the full rent. This le