What happens if your landlord dies without a Will?

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This is likely a complication you were not anticipating. Now what?

The short answer is  that your rights and obligations as a tenant on the day after your landlord dies are the same as they were on the day before your landlord died, whether there was a Will or not. How these are actually accomplished may change, however, and you may have to make new arrangements for the future. Here are a few of the questions we hear most often:

Do I have to move?

Probably not right away. If you had a lease, your landlord’s death does not automatically end it. The landlord’s legal representative or next of kin will take over your late landlord’s rights and responsibilities under the existing agreement, which will run to the previously agreed-upon end date.

Ultimately, the heirs may decide to sell or re-purpose the property, so it might be wise to begin to look around for alternatives.

If your landlord’s representatives want to end your tenancy because you are in breach of the agreement, the lease is about to end or there is no current lease, they must give you a formal Termination Notice that meets the requirements of Fair Trading. The minimum period of notice is:

  • 14 days – if you are 14 days or more behind with the rent or have committed some other breach of the tenancy agreement;
  • 30 days – if the fixed term of a lease is about to end;
  • 30 days – if the premises have been sold after the fixed term has ended and vacant possession is required by the buyer under the terms of the sale contract; or
  • 90 days – if the fixed term period has expired and no new agreement has been signed.

 Do I still have to pay rent?

Yes, of course. If you stop paying rent, you may be required to leave the premises on 14-days’ notice. The trickier question is who to pay if you have previously been paying the landlord directly.  

The administrators of an estate are generally entitled to receive the rent until the property is legally transferred to the proper heir. Be very careful, however, to confirm that whoever comes forward is the proper person to receive your payment.

If you remain unsure, the safest thing to do is to open a separate, interest-bearing bank account and pay your rent into that account. It will stay there until you have adequate assurance about who should receive the money. This may be an issue about which you should seek legal advice.

Who do I contact for maintenance concerns?

The representatives of your landlord’s estate are still responsible for maintaining a property that is clean, fit to live in and in a reasonable state of repair, as required by law. Hopefully, they will have been in touch with you about who to contact before any issues arise.

If the repair is urgent, you may want to consider paying for it yourself in an amount of up to $1,000, and then seeking redress through a Tribunal, if necessary. Keep paying your rent, though, and keep careful records of any expenses you have incurred.

If it is not clear who the landlord was, or who has taken over his or her responsibilities, you or your attorney may have to do some sleuthing. That may begin with a surviving spouse, death notices, records of probate or Land and Property, an agency of the NSW State government. 

How do I get my bond back?

Some of the same advice applies to efforts to reclaim your bond at the end of your tenancy, at least as far as the problem of identifying your landlord or any representatives. You may also seek assistance from the Fair Trading where necessary in order to actually reclaim the bond.

If you landlord dies without a Will and you have troubling questions about how you can preserve your home and financial rights, please contact us at 1800 770 780 to schedule a consultation. The attorneys at Owen Hodge Lawyers will be happy to speak with you.

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We are always ready to help you.