Can I break my lease if my roommate died?

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Can I break my lease if my roommate died?

My best friend and I signed a lease together in August. He recently passed away and I do not want to stay here anymore. Can I break my lease if we signed it together?

Asked on February 27, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Colorado

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

It depends on just what jurisdiction that you live in.  The landlord/tenant laws in your state determine whether you can break a leaseto the death of a roommate, as well as what’s written in your lease.  A co-tenant is directly obligated to the landlord and not to the other tenant. You can terminate a lease if a co-tenant dies in some jurisdictions, but most of those state require that the landlord be given notice (somestatutes permit an exception to the notice requirements if your roommate is 60 years or older). Your lease may also address the issue witha lease "void on death" clause.

In states that don’t allow termination based on a roommate’s death, the surviving tenant is responsible for the total rent payment. The reason is that a co-tenant is “jointly and severally” liable for rent. That means the landlord can collect the full rent from you and require you to meet the other lease obligations. Your roommate’s estate is responsible for the lease payment, and you would have to sue the estate for reimbursement of any amounts paid ion there behalf.

At this point, review the wording of your lease.  If you find nothing regarding the death of a roommate, then you will need to check specific state law.  You can attempt thi yourself or you can contact a local tenants rights organization or real estate attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant matters.


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