A landlord has specific rights and responsibilities when faced with the death of a tenant. State laws govern how a landlord can enforce lease terms, relet the dwelling and dispose of a tenant's property.
State by State
Rental laws are state-by-state. States can have very different laws for tenant-landlord relationships, so it is important not to assume that a practice that is legal in one state is legal in any other state.
Even when a tenant dies, in most states the lease remains in effect. A landlord then has the right to the rent as agreed upon in the lease and can sue the tenant's estate for the balance.
Reclaiming the Unit
If a tenant had a lease, the tenant's estate now holds that lease and landlords may not rent the dwelling unless, and until, the lease lapses or is terminated. If the tenant had a month-to-month arrangement, the landlord must follow state law regarding the termination of periodic tenancies.
The Tenant's Property
A tenant's property belongs to the tenant's estate. Once a lease has been terminated, the landlord may remove this property, but must safely store it according to state law. In some cases, if property remains unclaimed for a period of time, the landlord can sell it and recoup the costs of storage and any other money owed by the tenant.
A landlord can find himself in big trouble if he attempts to rent the dwelling or remove the tenant's belongings prior to proper termination of tenancy.