Q: My rental home has been for sale for more than a year. During this time, I have given my tenant a rent discount for allowing me to show the home and for the fact that he will have to move on a 30-day notice when it sells.
I have now sold the home and gave my tenant the required 30-day notice in writing. However, my tenant has informed me that he cannot move until one week after the escrow is due to close. My buyer insists that she will cancel the sale if the unit is not vacant, as she must immediately move in the day escrow closes, which is approximately two weeks. I know that I have legal remedies, but an eviction action will take at least 3-4 weeks and I will lose my sale. What can I do? If I lose the sale, do I have any recourse against my tenant?
A: Yes, you could have recourse against your tenant for the damages you would suffer if the sale were canceled due to his failure to vacate the rental home within the 30 days as required by your written notice. You offered the tenant a rental discount under the conditions that he would cooperate and allow you to show the home, and that he would be ready, willing and able to vacate upon 30 days’ notice. You were actually quite reasonable with your tenant by offering a rent discount to accommodate the inconvenience of showing the house and having to move on a 30-day notice. Many tenants are put through this inconvenience with no such rent discount at all. He now wants to keep the financial benefits but renege on his promise to vacate within 30 days. You should let the tenant know in writing that he must vacate as agreed or the sale of your home will be jeopardized, and you will seek any monetary damages caused by the lost sale from him.
While it is not always easy to move from a rental home within 30 days, he should have been taking steps all along to find other places to live as well as beginning the tedious process of packing his belongings, as I am sure the sale of the home just didn’t happen over the weekend. You even indicate the home has been for sale for more than a year and likely the tenant just assumed that it wouldn’t sell anytime soon. So he enjoyed the rent discount for more than a year but now is unwilling to cooperate.
The bottom line here is the tenant may be inconvenienced, and may have to find temporary accommodations and put his possessions in storage. But this is a problem that he needs to solve quickly. Be sure to contact an attorney to make sure that your agreement is enforceable in the event the tenant does not vacate as promised and you have to proceed with an eviction. You don’t want to find that your written agreement will not hold up in court.
Q: I am the resident manager for an active-living senior apartment community. While many of our residents are quite young at heart, we do occasionally have residents that pass away in their apartment. If they live with someone then we usually don’t have a problem, but we have situations quite often where a resident hasn’t been seen in several days. My property supervisor has told me I can’t just enter the unit without a reason. What do I do when we become concerned about the health and well-being of a tenant who lives alone?
A: I understand your concern and would suggest that if you have reason to suspect the death of a tenant who lives alone, try calling the tenant or bang loudly on his or her front door. You should also check with the neighbors, call the tenant’s friends and family, and the emergency contact number from the rental application. If you still aren’t sure, exercise your right to inspect the rental unit in an emergency, or contact the police or fire department.
If the news is not positive, you have other important considerations. After officials have confirmed the death and removed the body, you must immediately take reasonable steps to safeguard the deceased tenant’s property, including denying access to the unit except for obtaining limited personal effects for a funeral. Be sure to secure the unit and allow access only to legally authorized persons or law enforcement. If you have any doubts about the authority or actions of the tenant’s relatives or friends, contact your attorney for further advice. At this time, you may also find yourself in the middle of a dispute as to who has access to the rental unit. Although you should be sympathetic to your tenant’s grieving relatives, make sure you don’t grant access to an unauthorized person, or you may be held liable if Aunt Margo’s prized goldfish-shaped cookie cutter turns up missing.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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