Feb 282011
Authors: Kathleen Harward

Let’s take it even further: Your roommate is deranged and deadly, like the character in the film “The Roommate,” playing now in theaters.

Deranged or horrible, a bad roommate does not give you legal grounds to terminate a lease. Think of it this way: in exchange for taking your rent, your landlord is required to provide you with a habitable space (basic quality of the physical space) and to not intrude upon you. Your landlord has absolutely no duty to make your interactions with your roommate tolerable, so you cannot use your roommate troubles to get out of obligations to your landlord.

Lately, there’s been an epidemic of serious roommate disputes in the CSU student population. If you’re in this situation, you have two choices: work it out and stay; or you or both of you leave and deal with the aftermath of breaking a lease.
Here’s the good news. When you break a lease, the landlord has a legal duty to “mitigate” or lessen the losses caused by the break. This means the landlord must take reasonable steps to re-rent the premises.

In the current market with high demand from renters and low vacancy rates, we expect landlords to be able to find replacement tenants relatively fast. Still, you have to expect to pay when you break a lease. You are responsible for the rent until a replacement acceptable to the landlord is in place, as well as the landlord’s other expenses like advertising and sometimes an extra tenant-change fee written in the lease.

There are many tricky issues when breaking a lease. For example, what if the remaining tenant doesn’t cooperate with selecting a replacement? What if the landlord refuses to take responsibility for mitigating? What if the landlord says you must continue to be responsible in case the new person turns out to be unreliable? What if you truly feel your life is in danger and you want to apply for a restraining order? Do you fit under the special law that allows a victim in an intimate relationship who has a police report or court order showing the domestic violence to get out of a lease with a lease break fee of only one month’s rent?

If you have to break a lease, do it right. Student Legal Services will help you make a plan and execute the break in the best way. You’ll need the right paperwork to protect yourself, which SLS will create for you. You can find more details at http://sls.colostate.edu/breaking-a-lease.aspx.

If you’re not dealing with a murderous roommate a la Hollywood, consider mediating your disputes and salvaging the rest of the lease term. Contact the office of Conflict Resolution, 491-7165 in 325 Aylesworth Hall NW. The mediator there, Melissa Emerson, will even help you invite your adverse parties to the table.

Your lawyers at Student Legal Services provide CSU students with free, confidential advice on most legal issues. Find them in Room 182 of the Lory Student Center and at sls.colostate.edu.

Kathleen Harward is the Director of Student Legal Services at Colorado State University.

 Posted by at 3:15 pm

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