When a tenant dies, the executor of his estate must notify all his creditors, including his landlord. In California, the tenant's estate is liable for his rent for the duration of the lease. Depending on the lease type, the tenant's estate may be liable for up to two years' worth of rent. The tenant's estate must notify his landlord of the tenant's death, including its cause, as soon as possible.
Written Notice Requirement
When a tenant in California dies, the tenant's executor should notify the tenant's landlord in writing. If the tenant had a month-to-month lease, the landlord can immediately make arrangements to terminate the lease upon receiving notice of the tenant's death. If the tenant had a longer term lease, the landlord cannot immediately terminate the lease unless it has a clause specifying that the lease terminates upon death, but the landlord still must know about the death and discuss payment arrangements with the tenant's executor.
Terminating Long-Term Leases
Under California law, as of 2011 the executor of a tenant's estate must continue making rental payments on a tenant's rental property until the end of the lease term. The executor normally settles this debt via the estate's assets. The landlord cannot re-rent the unit until the end of the lease term. If the landlord wants to terminate the lease early, she can go to court to evict the tenant's estate from the unit.
After a California tenant dies, his landlord must disclose the death to any prospective tenants that view the rental property over the next three years. The landlord must explain that a tenant died and give the circumstances surrounding the death. In most cases, explaining the tenant's cause of death and whether he died in the apartment itself is sufficient. If a tenant died of AIDS or related illnesses, the landlord does not have to disclose the tenant's medical condition at time of death; however, he must honestly answer any direct questions about the tenant's death, including whether the tenant died of AIDS.
Termination of Month-to-Month Leases
If a tenant in California has a month-to-month lease, the lease terminates 30 days after the tenant's death. Thus, if a tenant dies December 3, the tenant's lease expires January 2. The executor of the tenant's estate is not responsible for paying rent after the termination of the lease; however, the estate must pay any outstanding rent on the tenant's account when the executor settles the tenant's debts.