Q: I had a tenant on a month-to-month lease who died at the end of March. Her adult son was living in the apartment with her near the end of her life, to help care for her, but he was not on the lease. I was not informed of her death until about two weeks later in April.
Her son and I had a good rapport, and when I asked him what the plan was, he offered to be out of the apartment with all of his mom’s belongings by May 1. Since then, he has been slowly packing and moving the items. I believe he has not been living in the apartment, but May 1 has come and gone. Starting about three days ago, I have not been able to contact him, despite numerous texts, phone calls and visits to the unit. He is about 80 percent moved out, but some belongings remain in the unit. I belatedly considered what written notice I might need to provide if the son decided not to follow our agreed-upon plan. On April 30, I hand-delivered a letter to the apartment stating that the lease was to be terminated, but did not include a specific date of termination. My tenant’s son was not there to receive the letter, but I left it there. My hope is that he still intends to move out in the next week or so. However, I have found a new tenant for July 1, and would like to do some work on the unit before the new tenant arrives. In case I cannot reach the son, and the belongings remain in the unit, what is the best course of action?
A: In Minnesota, a lease can be terminated when all the tenants on the lease die. Since your tenant was on a month-to-month lease, you are required to give only a one-month notice to terminate the lease. The written notice you left in your deceased tenant’s apartment on April 30 allows the son to keep the items in the apartment until May 31. However, he may be able to argue that the notice is insufficient, since it does not state the date that the lease was terminated, and a court may therefore determine that the lease was improperly terminated. Since it seems that you have a good relationship with your tenant’s son, you should continue to try to contact him and let him know that you have a renter and need to get some work done in the apartment. You should request that he immediately pick up the items left behind.
If you never hear back from the son, the deceased tenant’s property needs to be left in the unit until May 31. However, on May 31, the lease ends, and the personal belongings are considered abandoned property. You must store and care for the remaining personal property, either on-site or off-site, for 28 days. However, you will have a claim against the estate for the reasonable costs and expenses you incurred for removing, storing and caring for the property. Make sure to document the work involved and any expenses that occurred in the process.
Your tenant’s son has the right to pick up the personal belongings, but he must give you 24-hour notice if the property is on-site, or 48-hour notice, not counting weekends or holidays, if you have stored the property off-site. After 28 days, which is June 29, you can dispose of or sell the property. You must notify the son of the sale in writing at least 14 days in advance. Since you have been texting him, that will most likely be considered written notice. If you have his e-mail address, you should send notice of the sale by e-mail, too. If you sell the property, you can apply a reasonable amount of the proceeds to cover any storage and removal expenses. If there is any money left after your costs are paid, you must return that money to the son or to the estate.
If there is any rent owed to you, you cannot collect it from the son or from other relatives, but only from your deceased tenant’s estate. You can keep part or all of the security deposit to cover any rent owed. You also can make improvements to the unit while the remaining personal property is there. Just make sure to protect it by boxing up or covering the items, and try to give notice, either in writing dropped off at the unit prior to entry and/or by telephone or text to the son. If nobody is in the apartment when you or your workers are there, then leave a note outlining when you were in the unit and why. Often, landlords can be insensitive to family members, which isn’t the case here. Your good relationship with the son enhances your ability to get the apartment cleared out quicker and the matter resolved.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.