What Happens When a Lease Expires?

by Wilhelm Schnotz ; Updated July 27, 2017
Tenants may stay in a property with an at-will tenancy after a lease expires.

In many cases, leases define all aspects of your landlord-tenant relationship, and exist to protect both parties in the agreement from miscommunication or abuse. When a residential lease expires, most landlords or tenants will sever their relationship with one another, finding new lodgings or new renters. An expired lease doesn’t always necessitate that renters immediately vacate their property; however, as in many cases, an implied at-will tenancy is created between the landlord and the tenant.

Lease Obligations

If your lease expires and you stop paying your landlord rent, or use your final month’s rent deposit to pay your last lease term, you’ve effectively severed your lease as planned. Because of this, both the landlord and the tenant may expect the property to be vacated by the date specified in the lease agreement. Other end-of-lease expectations, such as the landlord’s rights to show the property to future tenants and security-deposit return procedures, begin as defined by the lease or state law.

At-Will Tenancy

If you continue to pay rent to your landlord and he accepts it after your lease’s original term expires, you’re considered an at-will tenant. Although specifics about at-will tenancy vary between states, most states require the landlord (some also require the tenants) to provide advance notice before vacating the property. The advance notice is often 30 days or a calendar month, but is defined by state law. Because of this, at-will tenants may not be evicted from their home without advance notice and adequate time to locate and arrange for new accommodations.

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Terms of At-Will Tenancy

Landlord-tenant laws differ between states, but in many states, the landlord is required to honor all the terms of the expired lease in an at-will tenancy other than the duration of tenancy. Because of this, prior agreements, such as rent payment procedures, access to property and rent rates, remain in effect. In many states, a landlord must provide you an advance notice in an at-will tenancy situation before raising rents; this period is usually the same as the state’s laws concerning prior notification on terminating an at-will tenancy.

Renegotiating a Lease

If a lease expires and both parties wish to extend the lease agreement, a new lease may be crafted to replace the expired one. Extending a new lease provides landlords with the security of stable tenancy, while it provides tenants long-term tenancy protection that isn’t available from an at-will tenancy. If both parties renegotiate a lease, some terms may change in the new lease. If a landlord hasn’t accepted any rent payments past the lease term, he may demand that tenants sign a new lease in order to remain in the property.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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