What Happens to a Tenant’s Lease and Property When A Tenant Dies in Maryland?
Key Point 2: A landlord must go through the eviction process to terminate the tenancy.
When a tenant dies in Maryland, the process with the tenant’s lease and disposal of property is a little different than in the majority of states.
Although the process is hard on all parties involved, especially any heirs, it is incumbent upon you to understand how to go about the process the correct way.
When a tenant dies, you have three things you have to consider: the lease agreement, regaining possession of your property, and disposal of the tenant’s property.
Let’s talk about the lease first.
What Happens to a Tenant’s Lease When A Tenant Dies?
When a tenant is deceased in Maryland, absent a clause in the lease agreement to the contrary, death does not automatically terminate the lease agreement.
The estate of the deceased tenant is still liable for the remainder of the lease agreement.
Maryland Real Property Code § 8-328(a) states, in relevant party:
If a tenant under a lease dies, or, if the tenant is a corporation and ceases to exist, distress may be brought against the tenant named in the lease regardless of death or nonexistence.
What distress means in the above quoted statute is that the landlord can bring a complaint against the estate for any money owed.
What Happens to My Property When the Tenant Dies?
Because the lease is still in effect, you must file a summary ejectment action against the tenant’s estate. In layman’s terms, a summary ejectment is an eviction.
Maryland Real Property Code § 8-401(b) sets forth the requirements necessary, and how to go about the summary ejectment process.
The difference, however, is that you will file the failure to pay rent action, and identify the tenant as being deceased.
The sheriff will then serve a copy of the complaint on the property (since tenant is deceased), or on any surviving heirs if there are any.
The trial must be held on the fifth day after filing of the complaint.
It is important to note, however, that the service of the notice by posting is sufficient only for repossession of the property. Service by posting is not sufficient for a judgment for past due rent.
When the court awards you a judgment in favor of possession, your property will be returned to your possession in four days after the completion of trial.
If there is any property left on the premises, it now becomes the property of the state.
What If There are Heirs of the Deceased Tenant?
If there are heirs, then there are three things that can happen.
1. You can still proceed with the summary ejectment, if you had a basis for evicting the tenant prior to death (such as non-payment of rent);
2. The heirs can make payments under the lease, and the lease remains in effect; or
3. You and the heirs can come to an agreement by which the heirs voluntarily enter into a termination agreement with you, thus alleviating the need to go through the eviction process.
Additionally, the heirs take possession of the deceased tenant’s property, so there is no need to turn the property over to the state.
What Happens to the Security Deposit of a Deceased Tenant In Maryland?
Use or return of the security deposit is done in the same manner as if a tenant vacated the property.
You conduct a move-out inspection, deduct any legal deductions, and return the remaining funds to the heirs.
In the event the tenant dies without heirs, the remaining security deposit funds will be returned to the state.
Think About the Big Picture
The even bigger picture, in the event there are heirs, is the fact that they have just lost a family member, for whatever reason.
While you may be owed back rent, we would suggest you balance your financial position, against the traumatic event that has just happened, and perhaps forgive the remaining balance, or just kept the security deposit as payment even if it doesn’t cover all the expense.
We understand this is a business, but at times it helps to be a good human.
The Team at Linchpin Property Management.
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