Handling the death of a tenant with compassion

Death is something that touches us all and property managers can, at times, find themselves confronted with the death of a tenant.

The property managers at Living Here Cush Partners were recently faced with this situation and did their best to help manage the process for family members.

Property manager, Katelin Currell, said a wonderful tenant passed away unexpectedly after an accident at home.

“We were notified by the tenant’s daughter-in-law and we were deeply saddened by the news,” Ms Currell said.

“We understood that, as property managers, we are a tiny part of the tenant’s life, however, we knew that this period would be significantly difficult and possibly traumatic for the family, so we did our absolute best to make the process as easy as possible for all parties involved.”

She said the accident was isolated to one area of the home and by the time they were notified, police had attended and all parties were informed that a forensic clean was required.

“We knew that there was a process to follow with respect to correct notices and time periods, cleaning, vacating items and finalising funds owed/paid along with refunding the bond,” she said.

“However, arranging or even discussing these items with a family who have lost a loved one, wasn’t going to be easy. 

“So it was important that if we needed to address topics that seemed insensitive and poorly timed, we made sure to humanise the process as best as we could; offering our condolences, wishing that they were okay, relating to their experience with our own experience – even if we couldn’t begin to image the pain they felt.

“We reminded them that while we have a duty to the landlord to ensure the process is followed, we are still just people, willing to help and get them through this as smoothly as possible so they can grieve.”

Katelin Currell
Living Here Cush Partners Property Manager Katelin Currell. Photo: Ray White.

Ms Currell said the legislation offered guidelines, but doesn’t teach empathy, compassion or how to communicate during those times. 

“It just comes down to being honest, having some perspective and treating people the way you would want to be treated,” she said.

There is a certain process that needs to be followed after the death of a tenant.

“In a best-case scenario, we are simply notified by a family/friend of the tenant and aren’t the ones to find that a person has passed while completing an inspection,” Ms Currell said.

“Legislation allows for the lease to be terminated with 14 days notice after the tenant’s personal representative gives notice of the tenant’s death, or the lessor gives the tenant’s personal representative of the agreement end because of the tenant’s death. 

“Otherwise one month after the tenant’s death, should no notice be given.”

She said families would have 14 days (or more if they request it), to move items, complete a bond clean and return the home in the same condition as they moved in. 

However, in the unfortunate event of an accident or incident in the home involving a biohazard, a forensic clean must be conducted before anyone can enter the property, including family, next of kin, the landlord, or the agent, she said.

“While this cleaning process may delay the vacating process, clear communication ensures that everyone involved understands the situation,” she said.

“Once the cleaning is complete, the remaining vacate procedures typically proceed in a standard manner.”

According to Ray White, disclosure details surrounding the death of a tenant and future tenants vary from state to state.

In Victoria, you must disclose if there has been a homicide in the property in the past five years.

For NSW, it’s a legal requirement to disclose if the property has been the scene of a crime of murder or manslaughter in the past five years, but not for natural causes or suicide.

In WA, property managers need to disclose a material fact, however, there is no specific timeframe for when the death happened.

Ray White said the agent needs to ensure they have done their due diligence and disclosed it to incoming tenants in WA.

However, the death doesn’t need to be advertised, but would be written into a lease so that the tenant was aware there was a death in the property.

There are no legal requirements in South Australia to disclose whether someone has died or been murdered in the property. 

The requirement to disclose material facts such as deaths or suicides in a property is generally based on common law principles and real estate industry standards rather than specific legislation.

Ms Currell said there was no legislation in Queensland that stated property managers must inform future tenants of a death, however for sales, an agent must disclose a material fact that ‘may have a bearing on a reasonable person’s decision to proceed with a property transaction’.

“While there’s no legal requirement, we firmly believe in transparency as a best practice and therefore feel it is best to disclose this information regardless, as it may influence a tenant not to lease the property,” she said.

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