As Jacksonville estate planning attorneys, we often come across unusual scenarios that require a deep look into the law. A recent questions posed to the Jacksonville probate attorneys at the firm was: “Is a roommate’s estate liable for the unpaid rent after he or she passes away”?
The short answer is no the estate is not responsible to the landlord, but the roommate may have a claim against the estate. When a person and his or her roommate sign a lease with a landlord, by default both roommates agree to jointly and independently pay the full rent each month. A landlord usually does not know how rent is divided each month as long as the checks arrive on time.
This means the landlord can sue either or both tenants named on the lease if the rent goes unpaid. This is true even if the roommate is a boyfriend, girlfriend, brother or sister. This is why the estate planning attorneys at The Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC recommend that a surviving tenant continue to pay the rent after the death of a roommate.
Can the Default Rule Be Changed?
Usually, when multiple roommates live in an apartment or house, they split the rent. Maybe each roommate pays equal rent, or one roommate pays a proportion of use of the property. One solution is for the roommates to form a legally binding contract called a “roommate agreement.” This agreement addresses how the parties to the contract will pay the rent and other household bills.
These agreements can also answer potentially awkward questions like what happens when one person dies or moves. If the agreement states that a roommate’s estate is liable for any rent owed, then the other roommate could claim against the roommate’s estate and file a cause of action if the estate fails to pay. Think of the agreement as a separate agreement from the lease and more of a “backdoor guarantee.” The landlord is kept out of the situation, and the agreement is only between the roommates.
Many roommates do not have such an agreement in place. A roommate can still file a claim against the estate regardless of the agreement, but it is less likely that the roommate will be reimbursed.
The estate can be liable for the rent owed by the decedent; however whether or not it pays is a different story. It depends on whether the estate has any assets left and the priority of the deceased roommate’s debts to the obligation to pay rent. If the estate is large and has enough funds during probate, then a judge could award a portion of the remaining rent from the time of death until the end of the lease.
For more information on how to deal with a roommate’s death and to make a claim against an estate in probate, contact the Jacksonville estate planning and Florida probate attorneys at The Law Firm of David M. Goldman PLLC today.