Can I break my lease if my co-tenant died?

UPDATED: Jun 14, 2011

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Can I break my lease if my co-tenant died?

Can I break my lease if my mother and I had a joint lease together for an apartment? I can’t afford the apartment anymore and my mother has no money. She ws 60 years and died. Please let me know if I can break it?

Asked on June 14, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Arizona


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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

It depends on where you live in.  State law determines whether you can break a lease due to the death of a roommate. Additionally the terms of a lease may address this via a "void on death" clause.  Under the law, a co-tenant is directly obligated to the landlord and not to the other tenant. If you are lucky enough to live in a state where you can break your lease in such a case, most require that the landlord be given notice (some statutes permit an exception to this requirement if the roommate is 60 years or older).

In states that don’t allow termination based on a roommate’s death, the surviving tenant is responsible for the total rental obligation because a co-tenant is “jointly and severally” liable for rent payments. This means that yourlandlord can collect the full rent from you and require you to meet the other lease terms. However, your roommate’s estate would be responsible for its share of the rent. If it doesn't pay that share, you would have the right to sue the estate for reimbursement of any amounts paid on its behalf.

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

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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