Can my landlord have me sign a new lease and pay another deposit if my apartment burned down?

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Can my landlord have me sign a new lease and pay another deposit if my apartment burned down?

My mother-in-laws apartment burned down the other night and her landlord offered to move her into a different apartment. However, they made her sign a new lease and pay another months rent prior to letting her move into the new apartment. Is this legal? Also, she did not have renters insurance, unfortunately. Does this have an effect on this issue?

Asked on July 7, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

From what you write, it most likely is legal, unfortunately. The following assumes the landlord was not at fault in causing the fire--for example, it was not the landlord or an employee who started the fire; the building was not below fire code, which is why it burned.

A lease is a contract. When a contract becomes impossible to perform due to events beyond the control of the parties to a contract--like, for example, a fire which was not the landlord's or a particular tenant's fault--then the contract is voided, or terminated, without penalty to either party because of the impossibility.

Therefore, the current lease could be treated as voided due to impossibility--the impossibility of providing an apartment which your mother-in-law could live in. Since that lease is now void, the landlord may require a new lease and new rent for the new apartment. He should have to repay any rent for the burned apartment which was not used--e.g. if your mother in law had paid for a whole month, but the apartment burned 5 days in the month, the landlord should return 26/31 of that months' rent. He also needs to either return the security deposit or transfer it over to the new apartment.


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