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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52 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Joy

    Hello, I just signed my lease 4 months ago for 1 1/2 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 a clause stating the contract can be terminated by the landlord with 60 days notice. What should I ask, I’m in a hard situation.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Joy,
      You have the right to quiet enjoyment of your property, but the landlord also has the right to show the property to sell it. It’s best if the two of you can make an arrangement that you both are happy about. You can ask for an inconvenience fee, but since that was not in the lease, the landlord does not have to pay it. You can also request that the landlord limit showings to maybe a couple of times during the week and maybe a window for the weekends. Maybe they will agree to that. Look to see if your lease or your state says how much notice your landlord needs to give you before a showing (usually 24 hours). Since you signed the lease allowing your landlord to terminate it upon sale with a 60-day notice, you need to abide by that.

  • Myb

    My landlord sent me a lease renewal which I signed. 3 weeks later I asked for a copy of the renewal, and he said he changed his mind and was selling instead… can he do that since he already offered to renew and I agreed and signed the renewal

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Myb,
      I don’t know all the particulars of your situation. Generally, if your landlord decides to sell before your current lease is over and before you both sign a new lease, your landlord can choose not to renew your lease, meaning you would need to leave when the lease term ends. If you have stayed after your lease term is over and you don’t have a lease signed by your landlord, you are a month-to-month tenant, and your landlord needs to give you notice to leave per your state’s law.

  • Chris stevenson

    So we signed our new lease agreement 3 weeks ago and we singed it and sent it to him and he singed it and sent it back and then literary 2 and a half weeks later we got a 14 day eviction notice is that legally to do since we both signed and agreed to the renewal of the lease agreement?

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