If you allow someone to live in your house or otherwise use property you own, and you accept rent from that person, you may inadvertently become a landlord. As long as the tenant pays you rent, he can stay and use your property. If you want to end the tenancy, you may need to evict the tenant -- especially if you cannot reach an amicable agreement by asking the tenant to move out.
Tenancy at Will
State property laws generally require any lease agreement longer than 12 months to have a written lease agreement. Complications arise when the parties do not enter into a lease agreement. A family friend may ask to stay in your spare bedroom and pay you rent every month. If there is no written lease agreement, state laws generally define the tenancy as a tenancy at will. At-will tenancies may present certain difficulties, especially when one party wants to end the lease.
Written lease agreements are helpful, especially when determining whether the tenant breached the agreement. In the absence of a lease agreement, state laws generally allow the landlord to evict the tenant without a reason. The landlord must still comply with relevant eviction procedures. For example, in Maine, landlords can end at-will tenancies by giving the tenant a 30-day notice. If the tenant is not out within 30 days, the landlord can file an eviction action in court. If the tenant is harming the property or using it for illegal purposes, state laws usually allow for an expedited eviction process, such as allowing a three- or seven-day notice period.
Ending a Tenancy at Will
The tenant can also end a tenancy at will without giving a specific reason. The tenant must give notice to the landlord of his intent to move out. Laws vary by state. In Georgia, for example, the tenant must give 30 days' notice before moving out. If the tenant fails to give the proper notice, the landlord may be able to sue the tenant for rent owed.
Landlords must be careful when initiating eviction proceedings. Tenants may defend on several grounds, including payment, failure to give proper notice and retaliation. Even if the tenant is an at-will tenant, the landlord cannot engage in self-help measures. The landlord could not, for example, change the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the premises during his lease term. Because of the legal nature of this matter, readers should seek independent advice before proceeding.
- Massachusetts Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation: Tenant Rights and Responsibilities
- Pine Tree Legal Assistance: Rights of Tenants: Evictions
- MassLegalHelp.org. "Chapter 4: What Kind of Tenancy Do You Have?" Page 63. Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
- Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute. "Landlord-Tenant Law." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
- MassLegalHelp.org. "Chapter 4: What Kind of Tenancy Do You Have?" Page 65. Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
- Maine Legislature. "§6002. Tenancy at will; buildings on land of another." Accessed Sept. 10, 2020.
Based in Traverse City, Mich., George Lawrence has been writing professionally since 2009. His work primarily appears on various websites. An avid outdoorsman, Lawrence holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in both criminal justice and English from Michigan State University, as well as a Juris Doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he graduated with honors.