Ask the Advocate

Answers to common renter questions from the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate

Q: A friend of mine recently broke up with a partner with whom he shared his apartment. The breakup wasn’t pretty. My friend is keeping the apartment, and the ex is moving out. Does he need to sign a new lease that does not have the ex’s name on it? What could happen if the ex’s name remains on the lease?

A: Generally a new lease is not required, but the lease itself may require notice to the landlord when a named co-tenant moves out.

A new co-tenant will likely be subject to the landlord’s approval, and the landlord will almost certainly want to replace the name of the departed co-tenant with the name of the new co-tenant on the lease.

This could come at a cost to one or more of the co-tenants. Fees for move-outs, move-ins and lease name-changes for a co-tenant are becoming more common.

Even if the landlord does not require it, both the remaining and the departing co-tenants may wish to have the latter’s name removed from the lease. It may be in the departing co-tenant’s interests because many leases make each co-tenant “jointly and severally liable” for all lease obligations — that is, fully liable for the rent and any damages to the property that may occur.

The landlord could refuse to remove the co-tenant’s name from the lease, however, until the required move-out notice period expires. Generally, after the initial lease term, the move-out notice period expires upon the next due-date for rental payment after 30 days.

The remaining tenant may also wish to have the departing co-tenant’s name removed from the lease. That would ensure that the departing co-tenant has given up his or her right to move back into the unit.

Finally, it should be noted that District law protects victims of “intrafamily offenses,” which means violence committed against a family member, intimate partner, or co-tenant. Under specific circumstances, victims of such offenses may have certain rental housing rights, including the right to be released from a rental agreement.

Of course, the particulars of any given situation may affect these general “rules of the road.” Contact the OTA if you have any questions about your own circumstances.

About the Advocate

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy and education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at Ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.

Beth Marlowe is a senior editor at Washington Post Express. She has written for The Washington Post, the Associated Press, Bloomberg Television and other publications.
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