Handling the Death of a Tenant: A Legal Guide for New Jersey Landlords

Handling the Death of a Tenant: A Legal Guide for New Jersey Landlords

As a landlord in New Jersey, dealing with the death of a tenant can be both emotionally challenging and legally complex. It’s crucial to handle the situation with sensitivity while ensuring compliance with New Jersey laws. Here’s a comprehensive guide to navigating this difficult process in the Garden State, tailored specifically for landlords.

  1. Immediate Actions Upon Learning of a Tenant’s Death

    1. Confirm the Death: Obtain official confirmation of the tenant’s death, such as a death certificate or notification from a reliable source, like a family member or law enforcement.
    2. Secure the Property: Ensure the unit is secure to prevent unauthorized access. Change the locks if necessary, but keep a record of all changes and any items removed from the unit.
    3. Notify the Next of Kin: Contact the tenant’s emergency contact or next of kin. Provide them with information about the process and what will be required to handle the deceased’s belongings.

    Legal Considerations and Obligations

    1. Review the Lease Agreement: Review the lease agreement to determine any specific provisions related to the death of a tenant. Most leases do not automatically terminate upon death, and the estate may be responsible for ongoing rent until the lease is formally terminated.
    2. Rent Payments: The tenant’s estate is responsible for rent payments until the lease is terminated. Communicate with the executor or administrator of the estate to ensure continued compliance with rent obligations.
    3. Possession of the Unit: Do not immediately take possession of the unit or dispose of the tenant’s belongings. An eviction may be necessary.  The tenant’s estate has the legal right to access the unit and retrieve personal property.  Do not let anyone in the unit with proper authorization either by way of the lease or by the authority given through the local surrogate, such as “letters testamentary.”

    Steps to Take with the Deceased Tenant’s Belongings

    1. Inventory and Document: Create a detailed inventory of the tenant’s belongings in the unit. Take photographs or videos for documentation purposes. This will be useful if any disputes arise.
    2. Cooperate with the Estate: Work with the executor or administrator of the tenant’s estate to arrange for the removal of the deceased’s belongings. Provide reasonable access to the unit and allow time for the estate to make necessary arrangements.
    3. Storage of Belongings: If the belongings are not removed within a reasonable timeframe, you may need to store them. Notify the estate of the storage location and any associated costs. In New Jersey, there are specific regulations about how long you must keep the belongings before you can dispose of them.

    Termination of the Lease

    1. Mutual Agreement: In many cases, the estate and landlord can mutually agree to terminate the lease early. This should be documented in writing and signed by both parties.
    2. Legal Termination: If the estate does not cooperate or there are delays, you may need to proceed with legal action to terminate the lease. This often involves filing a petition with the local Superior Court, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Landlord-Tenant Section.

    New Jersey Statute on Lease Termination After Death

    Under New Jersey law, the executor or administrator of a deceased tenant’s estate has the right to terminate the lease upon the tenant’s death. According to N.J.S.A. 46:8-9.1, the estate can provide a written notice to the landlord to terminate the lease:

    “If a tenant who is a natural person and the sole occupant of a rental premises dies during the term of a lease, the lease may be terminated upon written notice to the landlord by the executor or administrator of the tenant’s estate or by the surviving spouse, parent or child of the tenant. The termination of the lease shall take effect on the last day of the second calendar month following the month in which the notice is given, and the estate of the deceased tenant shall be liable for the rent until the termination date.”

    This statute provides a clear process for terminating the lease, allowing the estate to manage the deceased tenant’s affairs without ongoing rental obligations.

    Handling Utilities and Mail

    1. Utilities: Arrange for the transfer or discontinuation of utilities in the deceased tenant’s name. Ensure that the estate is informed about any outstanding balances.
    2. Mail: Notify the post office of the tenant’s death and arrange for mail forwarding to the executor or next of kin.

    Preventive Measures and Best Practices

    1. Emergency Contact Information: Always collect and update emergency contact information for all tenants. This can expedite communication in case of an emergency.
    2. Lease Clauses: Consider including specific clauses in your lease agreements regarding procedures to follow in the event of a tenant’s death. This can provide clear guidance and reduce uncertainties.
    3. Legal Counsel: Consult with an attorney specializing in landlord-tenant law to ensure you comply with all legal requirements and to assist in handling any disputes or complications that may arise.


    Dealing with the death of a tenant requires a balance of compassion and legal diligence. By following the steps outlined above, you can navigate this difficult situation effectively, ensuring that you fulfill your legal obligations while respecting the deceased tenant’s estate and family. If you have any questions or need legal assistance, don’t hesitate to contact Greenblatt, Lieberman, Richards, & Weishoff, your trusted experts in New Jersey landlord-tenant law.

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