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landlord/tenant Q&A

LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Manager
Property Profi les, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I signed a lease with a husband and wife. The husband had medical issues and passed away recently. The husband was the main breadwinner in the family. I feel so sorry for the wife but don’t think she can continue paying the rent. What can I do?

A. A situation like this is always difficult – especially if you have developed a relationship with your tenants. I understand that you feel compassion for the wife, but the reality of the situation is that you are running a business and the tenants are jointly and severally responsible for the contract. By signing the rental agreement each tenant is collectively and individually responsible for compliance with all its terms and conditions, including the payment of rent in full.

You may want to negotiate with the wife in an effort to help her find alternatives to making the rental payments or if that isn’t a realistic possibility then you can help her find another place to live which is more within her means.

If you are going to try to keep her as a tenant, then you will want to requalify her based on the rental rate and her income and/or assets. The husband may have left her funds to take care of her into the future and in that event, she may very well be able to stay on. Normally the qualification is a 1 to 3 or 1 to 4 ratios of rent to income. So, if the rent is $1000 per month then the gross income should be between $3000 to $4000 per month. If you are looking at assets, then you will want to distribute them over a period – say one to two years and break it down to a monthly figure.

If keeping her as a tenant isn’t financially possible, then you will need to consider letting her out of the lease. Obviously, she finds herself in this situation at no fault of her own, so the generous route would be to let her out of the contact and help her move on. The security deposit you are holding can be used to handle any cleaning, damage and any shortfall in the rent.

The Landlord Tenant Code doesn’t address an issue such as this, so you will need to come up with a solution that will work for all parties involved. This is a very emotional time for her and the last thing she will want to deal with is the harsh realities of her financial situation. Kindness and level headedness will prove to be an asset for you the landlord. You will need to speak candidly and try to assess the situation sooner than later.

I don’t envy your position but hope that by having open lines of communication with your tenant you should be able to come to a mutually beneficial solution. Good luck.

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