What rights do a deceased tenants family have to their security deposit?

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What rights do a deceased tenants family have to their security deposit?

My sister was recently shot and killed in her apartment and her landlord will not refund her next of kin the security deposit as “she broke her lease”. She is survived by her mother and myself her sister. Do we have any recourse?

Asked on October 4, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Florida

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Sorry to hear about your sister's tragic death.

The lease is a contract between landlord and tenant.  The death of a party to a contract terminates the contract.  If the landlord is referring to your sister's death as breaking the lease, that is incorrect.  The death of a party to a contract terminates the contract.  Therefore, you may be able to sue the landlord to recover the security deposit arguing that the lease was terminated by your sister's death.  The security deposit is a cleaning deposit and it is usually difficult to recover security deposits even when the place is spotless.  You should file your lawsuit in Small Claims Court unless your state has a special court for handling landlord/tenant disputes.  Your damages (the amount you are seeking to recover) should include the amount of the security deposit and court costs.  Court costs include the court filing fee and service of process fee.

Another potential issue is whether or not the landlord was negligent in not providing adequate security on the premises to have prevented your sister's tragic death.  If you pursue that issue, it would be advisable to speak with a landlord/tenant attorney and your case would NOT be in Small Claims Court, but should be filed in Superior Court.  Your state may have a different name for Superior Court.  Your lawsuit for negligence against the landlord would be based on wrongful death. 


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