Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers into one here.
Q: My tenant died in the apartment. There are no residents left but the estate's belongings remain. Now what?
This is terrible! No landlord is fully equipped to deal with this until after going through it.
Call the police and calmly explain what you have discovered. They will come, pronounce the tenant dead, and help you arrange to contact a coroner and next-of-kin.
Odds are good the police won't know the next-of-kin. This is why we recommend you always collect "emergency contact" information for every new tenant.
Change the locks to secure the unit. There may be a friend or family member with a key, but they are not automatically authorized to gain access to the estate or the unit.
Ideally, the next-of-kin will go to court and get certified. This is bullet-proof evidence that they have legal authority to act on behalf of the estate. It saves you from giving the belongings to the estranged ex-wife when really the son is the legal representative.
If there are no next-of-kin, you can get a public administrator for the estate. Either way requires someone to go to probate court.
If you have a certified next-of-kin, negotiate with them to move-and-store the estate's belongings. You can hire a bonded and insured mover the same way you would for an eviction. You want someone else to assert that they have collected every scrap (uncashed checks, stock certificates, the will, etc.) and every valuable. Make sure the agreement with the next-of-kin states that you will bill the estate for the cost of moving and storage.
If you are unwilling or unable to go to probate court, and cannot find any next-of-kin, follow the Massachusetts abandoned property process. Never take any of the possessions for yourself or your staff.