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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129 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mary Wabel

    My adult mentally disabled daughter and I have lived in this condo for 2 years and we were both on the initial lease. The first year was a month to month form with an end date after one year. She didn’t give us new lease , and we are in California, it became an asssumed month to month with us paying rent. She has a financial urgency so listed it, sent realtors by to take intrusive photos, took a 60 days termination of tenancy by and handed it to my daughter, not myself. We were not advised she has listed it but I saw it on a Realtors listing. The termination didn’t have both of our names on it. Is it still legal and binding? I didn’t receive any in the mail either.

  • Brandy LeMaster

    i just moved in 30 days ago , i was not told they were selling the place . 10 days in here they tell me there selling it and within 25 days its sold , they said i was in a fixed term lease so i didt have to worry , but they buyers dont want us here as they want to live here , we been given 60 days to move , we cant afford it we just moved in here , what can we do ? we have at lest 8 messages saying we are in a fixed lease so dont worry then we were served with a 60 day notice .

  • njgirllandlord

    I’m a NJ landlord just informed my tenant we will be selling our apartment and gave him 3 months notice. I have an early termination clause in our contract. It is not in tiny or fine print but rather very clearly stated. He has renewed many times and stated to he was unaware of this clause”because nobody reads contracts”.
    HE NOW SAYS “According to my agent, I can ask the following 3 issues to you, who canceled the lease which remains more than a year, as I move out in 3 months.”

    They say their realtor says I have to pay the following:
    A. New place’s deposit

    B. New place’s broker fee.

    C. Moving company fee to a new place.

    Are they correct with these demands? Do I owe them anything or is a 3 mons notice enough? Thanks in advance.

    • michael deegan

      yes, the tenant has the right. It is called ‘tenant relocation payment’. American law is rather pro-tenant.

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