If you are living in a rental property, but don’t have a written lease with the landlord, you may be wondering what your rights are and more specifically, whether your landlord has the right to evict you.
In this article, I am going to answer this question and provide an overview of the legal landscape surrounding tenancies that do not have a written lease agreement in place. I will cover some of the most common “no lease” situations including oral leases, month to month tenancies, holdover tenancies, and situations involving squatters.
I will also include at the end some tips you can use to protect yourself against an unfair eviction when you don’t have a lease in place.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
As a general matter, landlords can evict a tenant without a lease. Landlords who do so will typically need to provide proper notice, a valid reason for the eviction and follow proper eviction procedures as required under applicable state and local laws.
Ok, let’s get into it.
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Are No-Lease Evictions Legal?
As we stated at the top, “no lease” evictions are generally legal, however, the rules around how those evictions are done may vary depending on the nature of the tenancy.
When no written lease exists, it’s often difficult to know when the lease expires or what the mutual expectations are under the rental arrangement. So, it can be challenging to know when a landlord can evict someone for violating that arrangement.
That being said, most states have laws in place that address this situation. Now as I mentioned earlier, these types of “no lease” situations can include oral leases, month to month tenancies, tenancies at sufferance (or holdover tenancies) and squatter situations.
We’ll go into each of these situations below, but first, let’s talk about how an eviction generally operates with a no-lease situation.
How Do Evictions Work in Situations Where There is No Lease?
As a general matter, the basic requirements to start an eviction proceeding are fairly straightforward, whether there is a written lease in place or not.
The first step is usually providing a written notice of eviction to the tenant.
The form of notice may vary depending on the reason for the eviction. For example a “pay or quit” notice is usually used when the tenant has not made rental payments, but if the eviction is based on something else, a different form of notice may be more appropriate.
Again, you should consult your state and local laws to find out what is actually required.
After notice is given, the court usually issues a summons that tells when the hearing on the eviction is taking place. If the result of the hearing is a judgment by the court ordering an eviction, then the landlord may evict the tenant.
If the tenant refuses to vacate after the eviction has been granted by the court, the landlord will often contact law enforcement to remove the tenant from the premises.
What Are the Most Common “No Lease” Situations?
To help you understand how a no-lease tenancy works, how they’re valid, and the eviction processes in these cases, below are some of the most common types of no-lease tenancies.
Oral leases are exactly what they sounds like. An agreement between the landlord and the tenant that is verbal only and has never been memorialized in a formal lease agreement. They are often referred to as handshake agreements.
You may be wondering whether such an informal agreement is permitted or enforceable.
The answer is that oral leases may be valid, depending on whether they satisfy the statute of frauds.
What is the statute of frauds? It’s a legal doctrine which states that certain contracts must be in writing and signed by the parties in order to be deemed valid and enforceable.
It was originally designed to prevent fraud in business dealings. One of the most prevalent examples is a contract that extends beyond a year. Source. The idea is that a contract that requires such a long term commitment should be memorialized in writing and executed by the parties.
Obviously, a lease is a contract, so an oral lease that extends beyond one year will likely be deemed invalid due to the statute of frauds.
However, the statute of frauds may be interpreted differently by different states, so your jurisdiction’s laws may not adhere to this one year rule. It can be pretty complicated to sort out.
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In short, if your oral lease is valid, then a landlord may evict you for violating that lease. However, they must still follow the evictions processes required under law.
Oral Agreements That Are Tenancies-At-Will (Month to Month)
A tenancy-at-will or month to month tenancy is basically a tenancy that does not have a predetermined rental term.
As a general matter, there are two types of leases: (i) leases that have a defined term (usually one year or two years) and (ii) leases that operate on a month to month (or other periodic) basis.
Most written leases will specify which type is at play.
However, if the tenant does not have an written lease, it can be hard to know what the term of the lease is.
Luckily, most states will automatically consider a tenancy without a written contract a month to month tenancy. This means that a landlord can terminate the rental arrangement with only a month’s notice.
It is worth noting that the required notice varies by state (some require a month’s notice while others may require less, such as 7 days, depending on the frequency of the rental payments). Source.
If the tenant stays on after the landlord has given notice and the last month of the tenancy at will has passed, then a landlord will be able to file an eviction proceeding to oust the tenant from the rental property.
Holdover Tenancy (Tenancy at Sufferance)
A holdover tenancy is when a lease expires, but the tenant does not vacate the property.
When this happens, there is no lease in place because it has expired, but the landlord still has rights regarding the property, so they will be able to evict the holdover tenant.
In some cases, the tenant may continue to pay rent and the landlord may be fine with that arrangement and not evict. In that case, the terms of the tenancy will usually be governed by state and local laws.
In many cases, the law states that the rent stays the same and the law a month to month tenancy.
Often, to avoid unwanted holdover tenancies, landlords include clauses related to this in the lease.
Specialized Tenant at Sufferance Cases
In some states, if you do not have a lease and you are not paying rent, you may also be considered a tenant at sufferance.
For example, in Virginia, if you meet these two conditions, you are considered a tenant at sufferance and can be evicted for any reason and at any time, and no notice needs to be provided to you. Source.
In the case of a squatter, which is basically someone who is living in an uninhabited dwelling without a lease agreement (oral or otherwise) and without the permission of the landlord, a landlord will generally have the right to evict them (provided they do so promptly), but they should follow proper eviction procedures.
The people may have originally been trespassers on the property, but in some states, if they live there for some period of time, they will become squatters and gain some legal rights.
In some cases, if the landlord does not take action and the squatter occupies the property long enough, they may gain actual ownership of the property through a legal doctrine known as adverse possession.
How Do I Protect Myself Against Eviction If I Have No Lease in Place?
Obviously, the easiest and best approach is to ask your landlord for a written lease.
It is usually in the best interest of both parties to have clarity around lease terms and conditions, so having a signed lease in place should be a top priority for both the tenant and landlord.
If a written lease is not an option, you will want to take the following steps to prevent an unfair eviction:
- Keep all emails and other communications around lease discussions. Even if you do not sign a lease, having a record of what the parties agreed to can come in very handy is an eviction proceeding.
- Keep a record of all rental payments made to the landlord. Not only does this help to establish what the agreed upon rent was, it also shows that you paid it in accordance with mutual expectations.
- Insist on a move in inspection and written report. You want a clear record of the condition of the property when you moved in to prevent the landlord from trying to evict you for damage to the property that you did not cause.
- Maintain a through record of all communications with your landlord around repairs, purported lease violations, and anything else that could form the basis of an eviction proceeding.
- Stay in contact with the landlord and maintain a good relationship with them. If you are abiding by the lease terms and are a model tenant, there really is no reason why a landlord would not want to keep you as a tenant.
- Hire a lawyer if you feel you are unfairly being evicted. Or if you can’t afford one, contact your local tenants rights organization to assist you.
So there you have it – a detailed analysis of whether your landlord can evict you if you don’t have a lease and some tips on how to protect yourself against unfair evictions. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting.