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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10 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!

  • 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!

  • 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?

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