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Do I have to Move If My Landlord Won’t Renew My Lease?

Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Janice in MT: Hi Brian, I’ve been living in a nice apartment for 3 years. It’s a small apartment complex, kind of townhouse style. There are 12 apartments, 4 apartments in each of 3 individual buildings. The end apartments in each building are the best for privacy. Better yet, I have the end apartment in the building that is the furthest from the main street. Lots of privacy. I like it here very much. I’ve renewed my lease twice with small rent increases each time. Yesterday, I received a letter from the owner saying that he will not renew my lease when it expires in three months. What can I do about this? I want to stay in this apartment.

Answer: Hello Janice. You may or may not have options when it comes to your landlord not agreeing to renew your lease. Landlords do not normally need to give a reason for not renewing a lease with a tenant. A lease is a contract between the landlord and tenant for a set time. Neither party is obligated to renew the contract when it expires. I suspect that if you weren’t as happy living where you are, you might be looking for somewhere else to live. Rightfully, you would be free to do so.

However, there are a few exceptions when it comes to a landlord not renewing your lease. For example, you may have a legal case if you suspect and can prove that your lease was not renewed due to discrimination against a protected class or if you suspect that it was not renewed as a retaliatory eviction (a landlord seeking to evict a tenant for exercising their legal tenant rights). But these circumstances can be difficult to prove in court and will likely not change the immediate outcome for you if your landlord chooses not to renew the lease. If you suspect that you have been a victim of retaliatory eviction or discrimination, consult with an attorney.

Your landlord has given you three months’ notice that he will not be renewing your lease. As far as I know, that fits within the required time for notification in every state. What you didn’t mention is if he is changing it to a month-to-month rental. Did his letter tell you to vacate before the lease ends? Did the letter mention any specific reason he is not renewing the lease? If not, my first suggestion is that you have a conversation with him about exactly what is going on. Maybe he is just changing your rental to a month-to-month to give himself more flexibility in this strong rental market. If that is the case, the month-to-month works both ways. You, also, will not be obligated to continue renting the apartment based on a full year’s lease. You’ll need to understand the new lease requirements, but you can probably give as little as 30 or 60 days’ notice if you decide you want to move somewhere else.

But Janice, there could be a lot of other reasons why your landlord is not renewing your lease. What I suggest you do is learn what the reason is so that you can figure out what options you might have in the future. A few typical reasons a landlord doesn’t renew a lease include:

#1. Issues with you as a tenant. If you're a great tenant, you shouldn't have any problems with your landlord. However, some renters cause serious issues, which end in lease terminations. These can include property damage, failing to pay rent on time (or not paying rent at all), noise complaints from neighbors, or not following terms specified in the lease agreement. On top of those reasons, the landlord may suspect illegal activity or behavior in general that they don't approve of. If there's suspicious activity, but no proof of anything illegal happening, a landlord might decide to play it safe and not renew a tenant's lease agreement. After all, they don't want to get a call from the cops concerning the property and then need to take legal action.

#2. The landlord plans to renovate the rental. It's completely normal for a property to become outdated and show signs of wear and tear. Good landlords recognize when their property needs an upgrade to remain a desirable place to live. If they plan to do extensive work, such as a full renovation, they probably don’t want someone living there among the construction mess. Projects like that typically take months and it wouldn't be reasonable to displace a tenant for such an extended period, so they decide not to have renters during the renovation period.

#3. It will no longer be a general public rental property. The landlord owns the apartment. He can generally do whatever he wants with it. I once saw a landlord move into his best apartment during a time when he and his wife were having a tough time. But this can happen for many reasons. Maybe he wants to make it available for a niece or nephew. Or maybe he wants to make it available for family visiting from out of town.

#4. The landlord wants to sell the property. This usually applies to new landlords that decide they don’t like the responsibility, landlords that are ready to retire, or landlords that are looking to invest in a different property. In these cases, landlords sell their property and will no longer have control over renting. Thus, they move tenants to a month-to-month tenancy to give a new owner maximum flexibility in how they want to manage the property. 

Janice, those are only a few of the many reasons why a landlord might not want to renew your lease. What you want to do is be clear about what your options are. If you would like to remain in your apartment and have been on good terms with your landlord, ask them why they are choosing not to renew your lease. While they are not required to tell you the reason, most landlords will be happy to.

Please leave your comment.Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Brian Kline

Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 30 years and writing about real estate investing for seven years with articles listed on Yahoo Finance, Benzinga, and uRBN. Brian is a regular contributor at Realty Biz News

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