Can a Landlord Terminate a Lease Early to Sell the Property or Move In?

Written on August 15, 2017 by , updated on August 16, 2017

Landlords can terminate a lease with proper notice if tenants don’t keep their end of the contract, which is called terminating “with cause.”

A landlord might want to terminate a lease early “with cause” for a variety of reasons, including unpaid rent, new occupants you didn’t give permission to add, a pet when there’s a no-pet policy, or if the tenant’s dealing drugs or violating the lease in any other way.

But what if the tenant didn’t do anything wrong, but the landlord wants the tenant to move for other reasons? For example, if you want to sell your house, you could list it with the tenant still living at the property, but it’s easier to get the house ready and then show it when it’s vacant.

Sure, you own the house, and you have a right to sell it any time you like. But can you terminate the lease early because you want to sell?

Related: Tenants’ Rights When Selling an Occupied Rental Property

Or what if you want to terminate the lease because you or a relative wants to move into the house? Again, it’s your property, so you can live there if you want. But can you terminate the lease so you can move in right away?

Yes, if it’s in the lease

You can put any kind of clause in your lease, including one that allows you to break the lease early. Landlords who know they want to sell soon, or anticipate moving back in at some point, might put a clause in the lease that allows them to terminate the lease early, without cause.

The clause usually has language to the effect that the lease will terminate (typically after 30 days’ notice) upon sale of the property or if the landlord wishes to live in the property.

If you put this kind of clause in your lease, don’t try to sneak it in by using legalese in tiny print so you can get one by your tenant. If you add this type of early termination clause, make sure you point it out to your potential tenant and make sure they understand the meaning of the clause. They need to know before they move in if there’s a possibility you’ll terminate the lease early.

No, if it’s not in the lease

You might not have had the foresight to know that you would sell during your tenant’s lease term, or that you’d want to move in. That means you probably didn’t put an early termination clause in the lease that your tenant agreed to and signed. If that’s the case, then you can’t kick your tenant out without cause. Period. End of story.

If it’s not in the lease, then you can’t kick your tenant out just because you want to move in.

If the lease has a fixed term, it applies to both parties—you and the tenant. Just as the tenant can’t break the lease early without being responsible for paying rent, unless and until you can rent to someone else, you can’t break the lease that your tenant signed.

But you can ask the tenant if they want to leave early. Maybe they do. Or you can offer your tenant some cash to move out early. But the tenant doesn’t have to take you up on your offer. In that case, you have to wait out the lease term before you take back your property.

Related: “Cash for Keys” will Motivate Bad Tenants to Move Out Quickly

Opt for a month-to-month lease

Month-to-month agreements allow the landlord or the tenant to terminate the lease, usually with just 30 days notice.

Look up the laws for your state, as the laws vary between states and sometimes even within cities or counties. Some jurisdictions, for example, require landlords to give 60 days notice, even on month-to-month agreements.

For example, in Portland, Oregon, landlords who have a month-to-month rental are required to give tenants 90 days notice. Make sure you know the rules for your area before you rent out your property.

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26 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Bedee Clift

    Trying to find a form to serve to a tendant to Quite property

  • Bedee Clift

    needing quit property forms

  • Travis Cason

    This is one of those really cut and dry issues that people often times are unaware of. A lot of renters believe that if the landlord says they need to get out, that they have no other choice! Very informative!

    • elaine melgoza

      my husband moved into a relatives back yard studio in 2014. i joined him in 2017. as soon as i moved in. his landlord raised the rent $200. its been 13 months now, the landlord has chained and know screwed the entrance /side door which is the only way for me to get to the stairs that lead to the unit. he has served me with 2 different eviction notices. i have not been able to pay my rent this month because of a financial hardship

  • kristina

    Hello, I just signed my lease 4 months ago for 1 year contract. My landlord called to tell me they are going to put the property on the market. They offered to sell to me but I cant do that right now. I asked what is going to happen they said if it is sold before the year I will get my deposit back but I feel that is not enough. There are going to be lots of people looking at the house and I feel like I am getting invaded like its not my home. My dad said they should be paying me an inconvenience fee for every time they show the property. He said they can buy me out as well. I looked at my lease there is no clause stating the contract can be terminated for any given reason. What should I ask, I’m in a hard situation.

  • David Rivera Whittington

    I have been living in a structurally unsafe studio unit for 16-17
    months. On November 14 2017 The City of Hollywood Florida and Fire Marshall inspected then declared the building unsafe for human habitation and ordered it to be condemned. They further declared the building address 1834Johnson St was never registered with the City of Hollywood and should not have been used as a rental property. The rental management company (1826 Johnson St LLC aka Kapitol Reality) used text message threats and scare tactics to force me and my wife out. We are both elderly and severely physically and medically disabled. Albeit we received our meager deposit back we are still nonetheless homeless. Can I file suit to recover all past rent paid to them?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi David,
      You can file a lawsuit for anything, but you most likely will lose that one. You lived somewhere, and you paid rent to do so. You can’t live for free, even if the place was not a legal rental. I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time. Maybe you can find help by contacting your local HUD-sponsored senior housing program. Good luck!

  • Brenda

    Landlord breaking lease to have family member move in. There is no early termination clause in the lease. As a tenant, what should i request from LL? Are there legal documents to request paid moving expenses or compensation as sort of good faith bc I’m cooperating?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Brenda,
      Your landlord can’t just break the lease. As long as you’re a tenant in good standing, you can stay until the lease ends. But if you choose to leave early per your landlord’s request, you can ask for something from your landlord, such as paid moving expenses or compensation. Just put in writing what the deal is and have your landlord sign it. And get the cash before you leave!

      • Diana

        Being a landlord who’s lease on my property is up in June and my daughter needs to move in with our granddaughter if I give my tenant a months notice before lease runs out is that ok in Massachusetts?

  • Michele

    If the landlord sells the house to someone else who is willing to still allow us to rent. Does our lease just transfer to that other person (since the original owners names were on the lease as well)? Or does that release us out of the lease with previous owners and put us into a new lease with the new owners? Also, do we have any say in the landlord changing and any new terms to our lease?

  • Nikkie

    Hello, we have a month to month at our condo. There has been numerous maintance issues on our place. And tonight our heater started smoking and over heating. We texted and called our landlord and he said we are never happy here, why don’t we just move and he’s mailin us a termination Monday. We never said we wanted to move. Can he do this?

  • Tony

    Making a rental agreement is always the need of the hour.I have shifted to my home and I have made the rental agreement from Homeshikari who has provided me with tight rental agreement.

  • Will

    Hi Laura,

    Our last landlord sold the building, and the new owners told us on January 29 they were going to do some remodeling of the units, so everybody was asked to move out and they offered us 1000$ if we moved out on April 1. or 500$ if we do it on April 15.

    We are the last tenants and the only ones with a lease until May 31, in a 4 units building, the jobs started on February 15, terrible noises during the day, dust, cockroaches, water leaks, mushrooms in the bath, always paid rent on time and we never complained. Our rent is fully paid until March 31. We asked if we could move out on April 2, and they told us if we moved out after March 31, the “incentive” is only 500$.
    Is that legal ? how can we deal with these people?.

  • brenda

    Just did a drive by and the place looks awful. Cant imagine what the inside looks like. What do I need to do to get rid of them and make the house look presentable again. A good powerwashing would be great, and yard cleanup. New cement drive has black marks all over.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Brenda,
      If your tenants are on a lease, just don’t lease to them again. If they are on a month-to-month rental agreement, look up your state law and give the proper notice asking them to move out. Then you can do whatever you like with the place. Any damage your tenants did beyond normal wear and tear can be deducted from their security deposit. Make sure you look up your state’s law on how to deal with security deposits too. Good luck!

  • Shandi

    At the beginning of April, our landlord is breaking our lease and gave us 30 day notice to move out. Because she wants to move someone else in. She also, had us pay April’s rent. Can she have us do that? Our lease ends in June, we were able to find another place, but can she still have us pay for April? Since we already paid can we stay another month rent free or at least ask for it back?

  • Jimmetta

    My landlord has given me 60 days to vacate the premises She is selling the property and my lease isn’t up until May 2019. She gave me the notice by email on April 27 and vacate by June 30 but has taken me to court to pay the rent for May and June. Now I know I owe May but plan on moving before June1st. In my contact it gives the landlord a right to terminate 60 days but the space to credit the tenant is blank what is my option for funds returned

  • Dante

    We have been renting the same property for 7 years through a Property Management company! We have never missed a payment. Over the years there have been maintenance problems at the property and the PM company well to say the least does not respond timely if at all! Last year, the owner wanted to sell the house to us! We came up with an agreement and the PM Company was all of a sudden very involved! $ We cancelled the agreement because of termites, signed another lease and it ends in October this year and we do not wish to renew! The owner of the property wants to sell or keep renting the house to us not using the PM Company. If the owner as well as we put in our 60 day notice not to renew will the PM Company have any repercussions?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Dante,
      I don’t know your situation, but typically tenants have no agreement with the property management company. The agreement is usually between the landlord/owner and the property management company. If your lease ends and if you’ve given notice, that’s probably all you need to do.

  • Leigh Casey

    I signed a 2 year lease and mailed it to property manager without keeping my own copy. She sent a certified mail 30 day notice to me to move out because she’s selling house. My lease is over 7-15-2018. I’ve called her repeatedly to ask her to send me my copy and she will not call me back. What steps do I take to retrieve my lease? I’ve always paid rent on time and have maintained home. I want to be able to stand up for myself..

    Leigh Casey

  • Albert carrillo

    I signed a 2 yrs agreement with my landlord here in the home now he’s gone and erased where it was wrote 2 yrs and now wants to raise the rent and has giving me a three day pay or quit notice..

    Elk grove ,ca

    Lease to be 2 yrs ends 4/2019

    Now it says
    Lease to be ends until 4/2018

    Erased 2 yrs and added until then changed the 9 to an 8

    What are my rights.?…..

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