How Long Can a Tenant Stay After the Lease Expires?
How Long Can a Tenant Stay After the Lease Expires?
Occasionally, your tenant may not vacate your rental property when a lease is up. As such, you may wonder how long a tenant can stay after the lease expires. This situation can be challenging to navigate, so it’s crucial to have all the facts before you take action.
This article will discuss what landlords should know, how to handle a tenant who won’t leave, and how to prevent the situation from occurring.
Can a Tenant Stay After the Lease Expires?
A tenant can usually stay at a rental property after a lease expires as long as the landlord allows them to. Suppose the original lease isn’t renewed or a new lease isn’t signed. In that case, the tenant may enter into one of two types of tenancy:
- Tenancy at will: This is when a tenant continues to pay rent with the landlord’s permission until either party wishes to terminate the agreement. A tenancy at will is not the same as a month-to-month lease since there isn’t a binding lease in the former situation.
- Tenancy at sufferance: If a landlord doesn’t give a tenant permission to stay but hasn’t evicted them, they have a tenancy at sufferance. In this case, it’s essential to understand your local landlord-tenant laws before taking action, as states may vary in how long tenants can stay in the property after the lease expiration date.
What Is a Holdover Tenant?
If either of the situations mentioned earlier occurs, your tenant is now considered a holdover tenant — someone who remains in the rental after the lease has expired. If the landlord continues to accept rent payments from them, a holdover tenant may have the legal right to occupy the property.
Holdover Tenant Risks
This arrangement may not bother you if you have a great relationship with your tenant and allow them to stay past the lease expiration date. However, there are risks to consider when dealing with a holdover tenant.
- Reduced landlord control: Since a lease agreement doesn’t bind a holdover tenant, you’ll have to be mindful of things like property damage, unapproved pets, rental arbitrage, and more. Holding the tenant accountable or pursuing legal action may be challenging without an enforceable lease.
- No guarantee of consistent rental income: Rental income from a holdover tenant isn’t guaranteed. They may pay rent late or notify you of plans to vacate before a rent payment is due if they have a tenancy at will. This can leave you with less income than initially planned and provide short notice to fill a vacancy.
- Delayed updates and maintenance: If you had plans to update a unit as part ofthe rental turnover process, your goals might be interrupted by a holdover tenant. For example, you may need to postpone repairing a water-damaged ceiling, which can worsen the damage and ultimately cost more. Similarly, a holdover tenant can also delay renovations that could increase the value of your rental.
How to Deal With a Holdover Tenant
Landlords have a few options when a tenant stays after the lease expires. Here are the main four to consider.
1. Allow the Tenant to Stay
Allowing the tenant to stay while continuing to collect rent is an easy way to avoid confrontation. However, landlords should know the risks of allowing holdover tenants to stay without an active lease and how this can impact their rental business before choosing this route. You may also want to consult with a lawyer or refer to your local landlord-tenant laws for important rules to be aware of.
2. Negotiate a New Lease
By negotiating a new lease, the landlord and tenant will again have a legally-binding contract. This may help reduce the risks to the rental property since landlords can add clauses to enforce rules and restrict certain actions.
3. Offer Cash for Keys
A landlord may offer a tenant who refuses to leave cash as an incentive to cooperate. This is where a tenant agrees to vacate on a specific date in exchange for a payment from the landlord.
This method is a less expensive alternative to a formal eviction, but review your local landlord-tenant laws before taking this path to avoid legal violations.
4. Pursue Eviction
Landlords may also consider evicting a tenant who refuses to leave after the lease expires. The process varies from state to state, so you may wish to consult legal counsel before initiating an eviction.
If you plan to pursue this option, you must not accept any complete or partial rent payments from the tenant, as doing so will negate the eviction process.
What to Avoid If a Tenant Stays
Because holdover tenants have rights, there are actions and behaviors that landlords must avoid, even if the tenant isn’t paying rent. Landlords cannot:
- Threaten or harass a tenant to convince them to leave.
- Refuse to make repairs that affect the tenant’s health and safety.
- Change the locks while the tenant is still inhabiting the property.
- Perform a self-help eviction.
- Retaliate with a rent increase.
- Shut off the utilities.
These and other actions could violate a tenant’s rights and lead to lawsuits if the tenant decides to pursue legal action.
How to Prevent Tenants from Staying After the Lease Expires
An easy way to ensure a tenant doesn’t become a holdover tenant is to explicitly state your rules and expectations of what will occur towards the end of the tenancy in your lease. Clear instructions in a signed lease agreement will ensure you’re covered if you pursue legal action against a holdover tenant.
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