House gets bill stemming from MSU student’s death

Published 8:56 am Friday, January 28, 2011

A bill on residential leases inspired by the 2009 death of a Mississippi State University senior from Vicksburg passed a legislative committee on Thursday.

House Bill 1275, dubbed the “Derrick Beard Act” by state Rep. Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg, who authored it, allows co-signers on apartments and homes for rent to have a lease terminated if a primary lessee dies before a lease expires. A full House vote is expected in February.

Beard died in September 2009 in a one-vehicle accident on U.S. 82 in Webster County. Authorities said he was eastbound in his 2005 Ford Mustang when it left the road, hit a tree and burned.

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A month earlier, the Vicksburg native and 2006 Warren Central High school graduate had moved into an apartment complex off Montgomery Street near the Starkville campus, said his mother, Bobbie Beard, who co-signed a 12-month lease at $625 a month.

Upon his death, apartment management told her the lease was still valid — leaving his parents on the hook for that month’s rent and the $7,500 owed over the life of the lease because no Mississippi law addresses such cases.

“We were told we could sublease it,” she said. “We were stunned. We learned citizens aren’t protected in cases of a death. If either party dies, the other is still responsible for terms of the lease.”

She said she and husband, Mike Beard, had a much easier time dealing with their son’s cell phone service provider.

“He was on our family plan,” she said. “They said, ‘Ah, there’s a death clause. Don’t worry about it.’ But, it wasn’t so much about the cost. It was just a very difficult time for us.”

According to provisions of Monsour’s bill, debts owed for the month the primary lessee dies still must be paid, along with cleanup costs to return the space to rentable condition. Attempts to waive the early, death-related termination will be considered “void and unenforceable,” the bill says.