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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123 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jen

    My business lease started jan of 2018. Now Dec of 2018 I was told, by an attorney my bldg landlord sold the bldg and new landlord is planning on demolishing the building to build into a residential apartment. Closing date is in 2 weeks. Some businesses on this bldg lease is almost done so they are not paying rent until they have to leave. I have still have 4 year lease left with addl 5 year option. All stated on the lease document (with amount of each increase each year). My problem is, I invested over $100,000 on this business. What is my option? Am I getting kicked out? Is new landlord will try to buy me out? if so, what is normal amount or percentage of amount? my current rent is $2800, Revenue over $200,000 PLEASE HELP

    • Rosa Masi

      My father passed away in February 2018 and my mother and I are now managing his 2 properties.
      Is it right of me to ask his long time tenants to now sign a rental agreement which outlines certain terms I am putting into effect? For example, rental increases, late payment fees, returned check fees, lock out fees and other rental agreement terms used for our protection and theirs.
      My father was very old school when it came to his rental properties and rents were extremely low and repairs were few. We have done many upgrades and painting and though most tenants have been appreciative, there is one male who is always looking to feud with me saying ” I know my rights!!” It’s exhausting. I feel he has an issue with women in authority.

      • Laura Agadoni

        Hi Rosa,
        I’m sorry for your loss. You can present your tenants with a lease. You must include a start date and an end date. Look up the law for your state to see how much notice you need to give tenants. Let’s say it’s 30 days’ where you live. If you present a new lease now, say Jan. 3, the new lease can start anytime after Feb. 3. It might be cleaner to start on Feb. 15 or even March 1. Anyway, after your tenants review the lease, they can choose to sign it, open negotiations for changes to terms (which you can agree to or not), or not sign it and move. Good luck!

        • Rosa

          Laura, we live in MA and we have always done a month to month tenancy so my Rental Agreement states this in one of its clauses. I gave him a six month notice of rental increase as it was a more than 10% increase and a reminder letter on Dec. 1, 2018 that the increase would begin on Jan. 1st.

  • oc

    My husband has a cabinet making workshop employing 10 people and generating a solid revenue for the last 15 years. The landlord passed away earlier in the year and now the son is in process of selling to property developers. My husbands company still has 5 years on the lease but it appears they will be asked to move. Does he have a right to hardship payments for the break of lease. what is the reference point for this payment.would really appreciate input. thank you much.

  • Seani

    My landlord is telling me I need to move out because the people buying the house want it empty before my lease ends. I have been an excellent tenant and by law I know I do not have to leave until my lease ends (there are no special clauses about the lease ending early). What should I do? I don’t want to be a mean person and have the landlord miss out on the sell but I cannot move by the date they are “evicting me”. I’m wondering if I should wait for them to close and then discuss with the new landlord ?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Seani,
      I would recommend that you discuss this with your current landlord. Let your current landlord know that you intend to stay there per the lease term. You are not being mean. You’re landlord is trying to bully you, it sounds like to me.

    • Permoon Saeed Akhtar

      My tenants are good but the problem is my bank is not renewing my mortgage
      I have to sell my condo
      I have a one year lease agreement with my tenants and one is not expired yet
      Can I vacate my property in order to sell it

  • Peggy

    My landlord notified my the day after Thanksgiving that their Airbnb company had rented the house starting on Jan 1, and that they couldn’t get out of it. We never received an official notice, just a “I hate to send this” text message. Rentals are far and few between, and we had to move in with my mom and dad, so for us to get thru we moved out on the last day of the month, and it was another 2 weeks before we were able to secure a place to live. In the mean time, we did not pay Decembers rent, and they refuse to return our security deposit, even though AZ Lease Act states several conflicting statements to what happen to us. When renting the property, we were told that we could have it for 6 months! And they booted us out! Is this right?

  • Tanya

    The owner of this home broke the lease with the property management company. Is our lease now broken? With didn’t sign and agreement with him. We sign with the property management company. Can we now move? He told the property management company to have us send him the rent. But we signed no contract with him.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Tanya,
      Yes, you need to pay rent to the owner of the rental property. When you were paying rent before to the property management company, they then gave that money to the owner. The owner simply cut out the middleman and will want you to pay him directly moving forward. You signed a lease to rent that property for a set term, and you need to continue to pay rent until the lease term is over. If you want to move, you can, but you are still liable for paying rent.

  • Emma

    Good Day, we received a notice saying our lease will no be renewed and we need to vacate within 60days, however we managed to secure new accommodation before the 60days were done . Now the landlord says we should still pay for January as we had to give 30days notice BUT they gave us notice to move out and we managed to get acc earlier , what is the legalities in this regard?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Emma,
      I don’t know your exact situation, but you are responsible for paying rent for the entire lease term. You can move early, but the landlord still gets rent for the lease term. Think of it this way, let’s say rent is $1,000 a month. When you sign a year’s lease, for example, you are really agreeing to pay $12,000 to have a place for a year. Most times, people break that big payment into installments, usually monthly. So the landlord is entitled to the entire $12,000 (or whatever the total is in your case.)

  • Vern Anvik

    I do have a 90 day notice of sale in the lease. But Montana law states that the lease goes with the sale and the new owner assumes the lease. MCA 70-24-201 says “may include in a rental agreement terms and conditions not prohibited by this chapter or other rule of law… Does that mean the 90 day notice could not be included in the lease? It was a Mt Residential Lease Agreement that I downloaded on line.

  • cici

    my name is cici
    the landlord terminated our lease after 2 years of running business since we can not pay the rental fee. this is business lease of 5 years contract so i want to know that do we need to still pay the rental fee for 2 and half years. Please could you let me know what can i do and what right that i have and how to process things with this problems . thank alot

  • Liz

    I have a residential fixed year lease. I moved in September 2018. A week after I moved in I received a letter stating that the building was sold and they would not be renewing any leases (which sucks for me because I would not have moved here had I known Id have to move again in 12 months). Well today I spoke to the property manager and he said all remaining tenants will be getting a 30-6p day notice to vacate. From what i understand they dont have the roght to force me out. Especially since my lease was signed after the sale and there are no special disclosures or addendums referencing lease termination due to sale of the building.I plan on trying to get compensated for moving expenses id it comes down to it.I live in NOLA what r my rights

  • Shaniqua

    hi I signed a 6 month lease at my apartment for a total of 876$ in Raleigh, NC. The lease is for 6 months due to them selling the land where new apartment will be placed. I recently got a letter on 2/27/2019 stating that my rent will be increased to 1,176$ on a monthly basis starting april 1st. They also told us that we would be paying 886$ as we have been since dec but on every letter they send it is written that we are only supposed to pay 876. They have been lying to me about fixing my kitchen light since JAN. still broken. Feb 1st I payed them 1000$ in total for rent and water etc but they said I still owe them 140$. I refuse to pay them the 140 until my light is fixed now I feel they are charging me out or retaliation. Is this legal?

  • Kathy Pate

    We have lived in this house for 4 1/2 years. About every 2 years our landlord signs a new lease. We just take old lease white out date make new copies , re-sign and on to the next 2 years. We just signed new lease till October 2020. We are 5 months into new lease and she delivers an eviction notice dated for 20th of February but dropped it at house on the 7th of march. There is no clause that says she can force us out in event of sale or landlord wanting house. What can we do??? Help plaese. We have an Autistic deaf child that is taking it hard.

  • cynthia warren

    My friend’s landlord had them move out to sell the place. Now the landlord doesn’t want to sell and wants to rent again. He is not responding to their requests of my friend to move back in.

    Can he do that?

  • Cat Humphrey

    I signed a 1 year lease in March of 2019. There is no early termination clause in the Lease agreement. I was just notified by the property management company that their contract with my landlords has been terminated. I have the information needed to pay my rent via electronic funds transfer. As long as I do so, can the landlords terminate my lease early? I suspect they inherited the property, as a trust, with different first names was referred to in the notice I received. I have received no further correspondence and the 1st is coming soon.

  • Ashley

    We have agreed to a 3 month lease in a house to rent a room for 3 months and barely into the 3 months a month later they give us a 30 day notice. They said that they are evicting us because we don’t meet their standard, we are a family of 3, myself 30 yrs old my son 8 months and my fiancee 28 yrs. Barely here for a month and they are giving us a 30 day notice. Which we already paid for the first months rent plus the deposit. We are being forced to move when we have no money to move or pay rent since we need money to find another place to move to and my fiancee being the one who solely works and only gets paid twice a month. I’m coming to you in seeking if this is fair because their reason was mainly us cooking in the kitchen. And they are starting to harass us about money that we don’t have and that we need to find another place god willing. Because rent is not cheap no matter where we go.

  • Linda Greenhill

    Hi I’m in Ohio new renters moved in Feb. and signed a one year lease rent and pay all utilities. . In May one of the renters abandoned the rental with no notification leaving the other renter to struggle with the rent payment and utilities. I have a abandonment clause in lease they both signed. Electric was shut off then reinstated. I do have a clause in lease renters will not default on utilities. Rent was not paid on time this month when due so I notified renter no rent payment please vacate in two weeks. Renter paid 8 days late in full. Can I sell the house and break lease based on these facts what are my obligations? Thank you.

  • Desiree

    Hi! I’m in CA. We had a Landlord move back in to the house we were renting after we had moved out and paid the lease in full. We had returned keys and they asked us to cancel the electricity out of our name. We were hoping they were going to find new tenants but they did not. There is still a month left on the lease that we have paid and we have evidence that they are living in the home. What can we do?

  • Susi

    87 & 90 year-old couple, one got sick. Had to go to Assisted Living and leased their home for a year. 10 months left on lease. They HATE the Assisted Living, and want to go home. I suggested they ask the renters if they would be willing to move out if they paid the renters moving expenses to get them into a new place. Is This a good way to do this when you are hoping for rapid and willing cooperation? In California. Thanks.

  • Susan Carson

    My husband and I wanted to renew the lease for two years. The landlord denied our request and agreed to 18 months. My husband and I offered to pay higher amount or rent and also asked the landlord to reconsider allowing us to stay in the home for 8 more months until we transferred out of the state. Again were were denied on both requests. It’s July and the lease is up in October. THe rental housing market is slim but we were able to find a place to move into in August. We requested to be allowed out of the lease by 31 August to be able to obtain a suitable home for our family. The owner came back and stated that he cannot afford to pay for the home in September and we will be required to now pay rent on two places. What can I do

  • Catherine

    My tenant broke our rental agreement by giving me less than a thirty day notice. I have someone interested in moving in before when she plans to move out. Can I tell her to leave earlier than she told me for my new tenant to move in?

  • Charlotte Maestas

    Our landlord gave us a 30 day notice we r on a year lease we signed the lease on Sept 28 2018 but didn’t move in till Oct 1 because they said we would have to pay for those days now he wants us out by Sept 20 we will b in house a year on Oct 1st back signed 5he lease on Sept 28 what is our rights

  • Stephanie

    I need advice desperately, my lease expires January 26,2020. However my landlord has informed me that he wants me, my significant other and our three children out of the house by mid October because someone he knows that works on his family members farm has offered him $300 more a month to rent it to him for his laborers. Is this legal?

  • Brian

    Landlord is trying to sell his unit and we may agree to terminate the lease early. What’s a reasonable tenant allowance payment we can ask for? We are thinking of one month free rent and security deposit refund. Is this reasonable or can we ask for more? Moving is a big hassle and costly.

  • Rikki

    I rented my house out and moved in with my fiance’, the lease contract was for year from March 2019 to March 2020. Unfortunately things have happened and I need to move back in to my home. During the 6 months the lease has been in default due to tenant being arrested on drug charges at the residence, I let them stay due to having children(I felt bad for the kids). There have been other issues such as my neighbors reporting to me the tenants get very loud and fight often. Do I have a legal standing since I let them stay? Can I give an eviction notice for loud and unorderly conduct?

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