If you have been asked by your landlord to sign a new lease, but you are comfortable with the existing one, you may be asking whether your landlord can force you to sign the new lease.
In this article, I am going to answer this question. I will also cover when new lease agreements are typically requested and some tips on how you can respond if you don’t want to execute a new rental agreement.
The short answer to the question, though, is as follows:
A landlord may not force you to sign a new lease agreement while the original one is in effect because they are obligated to live up to the terms of the contract that they signed. However, when the lease is set to expire, a landlord may insist on a new lease and refusing to sign it may result in the landlord offering your rental to someone else.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.
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When Can A Landlord Force Me to Sign a New Lease?
The simple answer is never. In short, a landlord can never force you to sign a new lease. A contract is a voluntary instrument and no one can force you to sign on the dotted line. But your refusal may result in unwanted consequences, depending on your situation.
As mentioned, if you are in the middle of a lease, your refusal should not have any real negative consequences. After all, you have a valid lease in place which your landlord must abide by. If he is offering you a different deal, you are absolutely within your rights to refuse.
I would note that the same holds true for any lease amendment or other change to the lease that is proposed in the middle of the term of your contract. In fact, most landlords propose changes through a lease amendment rather than a whole new lease.
But the situation is different when your existing lease is set to expire or you are negotiating the terms of a renewal. In that case, your landlord is usually well within their rights to ask that you sign a new lease or change the terms of your existing lease for the renewal term.
I would note that there are some important exceptions that may apply, depending on your state and local laws. For example, in New York City, if you live in a rent controlled building, your landlord is limited in their ability to refuse renewals. Source.
Proper Procedure for Lease Renewal
Ok, so now that we know a new lease agreement will usually be proposed in connection with a lease renewal, let’s talk about what you can expect in that situation.
Typically, most states require landlords to notify their tenants about changes to a lease in connection with a renewal. In Virginia, for example, landlord must notify tenants at least 60 days prior to the expiration of the existing lease if new terms are going to apply (usually I see them in the form of higher rent). Source.
Of course, I would first check your lease agreement to see what is says about renewals and timeframes because it may have different (or perhaps even more strict) terms when it comes to renewal notices.
This notice period protects the tenant against unexpected and large increases in the rent immediately prior to the end of the term. If they don’t like the new terms, they may be scrambling to find a new place or be forced to accept the less favorable terms because they can’t find a new place in time.
So make sure you read your lease and understand your state and local laws. I have pulled together landlord-tenant laws for all 50 states and Washington DC here if you want to check them out.
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Proper Procedure in Case of Non-renewal (and Helpful Negotiating Tips)
If you are presented with a new lease or changes to your existing lease in a renewal negotiation, but you don’t want to accept them, you have two choices. You can, of course, leave at the end of your existing lease term.
Of you can try to negotiate with your landlord for more favorable terms. In many cases, a landlord may be willing to work with you, especially if you have been a good tenant who always pays on time and takes care of the rental. One tip is to offer the keep the rent the same (or less than the proposed increase) in exchange for agreeing to a longer term.
Vacancies can be expensive for a landlord, so the thought of not having to deal with it for two years instead of one (for example) may be really appealing. If you are handy, you can also offer to do minor repairs for free. Again, this saves the landlord from hassles and costs associated with simple repairs.
Bottom line: If you are reasonable and creative in your negotiations, your landlord may be accommodating.
Either way, you should communicate your plans in writing to your landlord so there is no misunderstanding about your intentions and so both of you can plan accordingly.
Common Reasons Why Landlords Want to Renegotiate Leases
Landlords are in the business of making money.
So they will do what they must to make sure that their investment property generates a healthy return. Given this, let’s look at some of the top reasons why landlord renegotiate leases.
- A landlord wants to charge a higher rent. This is probably the most common change to a lease. Whether the landlord wants to increase their profit margin or cover rising costs, a rental increase will do the trick. A smart landlord will raise rents in line with market norms. If they don’t, a renter may shop around and find a better deal. If you are a good tenant, that’s a loss for your landlord.
- A landlord wants a longer term. Landlords may also want to keep tenants locked in for a long renewal, as finding new occupants to cover rent income can be stressful.
- A landlord wants to change repair provisions. If your landlord believes that you are abusing the unit, they may want you to shoulder more, or all, of the costs for repairs (although many may simply refuse to renew with you outright).
- Additional tenants. In some cases, you may want your boyfriend or girlfriend to move in with you. If you have raised this with your landlord, they may be willing to amend the lease to add them as tenants. This may come with an increase in rent, however, due to the additional wear and tear on the unit.
- Pet related provisions. Sometimes a landlord may change their mind about pets. If you have been asking about a pet and they initially refused, they may be willing to allow it now. Often, however, they will require a pet addendum that increases your security deposit and rent.
So there you have it – a clear answer to the question of whether your landlord can force you to sign a new lease and some helpful context and tips to help you navigate when this happens.
Hope this has been helpful and happy renting.