“How Long Can a Tenant Stay After the Lease Expires?” and Other Questions About Holdover Tenants

ByVladana Donevski
March 14,2022

If you have a detailed and signed lease with tenants who follow it to the t, you’ve hit the landlord jackpot. It’s not always that easy, however - many landlords have shaky relationships with their tenants and will often find themselves in situations where an unpleasant confrontation is unavoidable.

A tenant’s lease ending can be very frustrating for a landowner. There will be those unicorn tenants whose lease landlords will be happy to renew. More often, however, “How long can a tenant stay after the lease expires?” is just one of those questions a landlord might ask themselves with a tenant lease near expiring.

The best route is to contact your tenants even before the lease expires and discuss with them whether you would like to have them stay or figure out whether they’re planning on leaving. Starting the process early will give you the time to attract new tenants if your property becomes vacated.

But if it’s already too late for that, here are the answers to some common questions that might be keeping you and other landlords up at night.

What Happens When a Rental Lease Expires?

As mentioned before, this typically depends on your relationship with the tenant. If they were a good renter, you might consider renewing their lease. Otherwise, you could continue to accept rent from them without a lease agreement, which would be viewed as a tenancy at will - something we will discuss further below. Finally, you can start the eviction process, but that can be troublesome and time-consuming, so avoid it whenever possible.

Smart landlords typically set up a clause in the lease on what happens after it expires. It can stipulate that the lease is automatically renewed or switch the tenant to a month-to-month agreement. If no such agreement is established, tenants turn into “holdover tenants.”

What Is a Holdover Tenant?

By default, as soon as their lease expires, a tenant becomes a holdover tenant. However, this is far from optimal for landlords - you’ll want to avoid having holdover tenants and redefine their tenancy within some kind of agreement. Without a lease in place, there’s not much to protect either party if anything goes south. Ambiguous leases are also very unhelpful.

Some tenants will try to pay rent even after the lease expires, and you should avoid accepting that before putting the terms in writing. If you do take the rent, you expose yourself to several risks down the road. People whose lease expired and are still paying rent fall into two categories: Tenancy at sufferance and tenancy at will.

Tenancy at Will

This category entails paying rent and living on a property without a lease but with the landlord’s approval. It is a tricky position to be in for both landlord and tenant, as, just like the name suggests, either party can change their mind at any time. Tenants can stop paying rent and vacate the premises, and the landlord can tell them to leave by serving them an eviction notice with no warning.

This term is sometimes used interchangeably with a month-to-month lease, but renting month-to-month after the lease expires is still commonly regulated by some type of written agreement that states how long the state can last or the conditions under which the lease ends.

Tenancy at Sufferance

Tenancy at sufferance is a situation that often ends badly, as it means that the tenant pays rent and occupies the property against the landlord’s wishes. If you, as a landlord, don’t want the tenants to stay, but they are staying anyway, you shouldn’t accept rent, as it can complicate the situation if you are forced to start an eviction process.

After all, you shouldn’t have to accept “forever” as the answer to the “How long can a tenant stay after the lease expires?” If your tenants remain on your property against your wishes, you should refuse to accept money or extend the lease, thus making the tenant a trespasser on your property. This will help you prove that you don’t want them there if the situation escalates.

How can the situation escalate, you might wonder? The tenant might up and leave, leaving you with unpaid rent. While you can overcome this situation relatively easily by going to a small claims court or hiring a collection agency, there is a worse situation to be in - the one where the tenant refuses to leave after the lease expires.

How to Get Tenants to Vacate the Property

If a landlord doesn’t want the tenant to stay on the property any longer, there are two approaches to solving this issue. 

Offer Them Cash for Keys

Before starting an eviction, which on average costs $3,500, to get your property accessible for rent again, you might want to try the good old cash-for-keys solution. It may not be legal in your state, and it requires some negotiating, but it is undoubtedly the cheapest option in terms of both time and money. You would be offering your tenants cash to move out, and if they accept, you will be able to rent out your property to someone else sooner than you would with another solution.

If you are comfortable paying the tenant who stays after the lease expires to vacate the property, make sure to put the terms in writing and not pay up before your former tenants move all of their belongings. There have been many instances when personal belongings created problems for both tenants and landlords.

Starting the Eviction Process

While, as a landlord, you might be considering eviction first, we’re leaving it as a last resort. Each state has its laws on eviction, so it can be challenging to estimate whether eviction is the right step to take. Some state laws favor tenants, other landlords. It would be advisable to hire a lawyer, or at least inform yourself of the applicable eviction laws in your state. If your question is: “How long does it take to evict a holdover tenant?” the answer can range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and it depends on the tenants’ rights.

The first step is typically serving the tenants with an eviction notice, which they will hopefully abide by, and leave your property. If not, the landlord needs to promptly file an official complaint with their local rent court after the notice expires. After this, the eviction court hearing date will be set, and it would be best to have a lawyer accompany you there.

Eviction after a lease expires can be very unpleasant, which is why the better-safe-than-sorry approach is crucial when choosing tenants. It is always recommended that landlords perform a detailed background check on their prospective renters beforehand. Writing a clear lease that leaves nothing to chance and ensuring that your tenants are familiar with the terms before they move in are keys to a happy landlord-tenant relationship.

Summary

To sum things up, as a landlord whose lease with the tenant is soon to expire, you certainly have many options. You can try renewing their lease in one form or another, offering cash for keys so that they will move out faster, or try to evict the lease-expired tenant who won't leave.

The best way to handle any stressful situation with your tenants is to be proactive about things and prevent any unpleasantness. Screen your tenants, create a thorough lease that works for both parties, and approach any case involving your tenant with an open mind: Having an honest conversation with your tenant and finding a win-win solution together trumps any other option on this list.

FAQ
What happens if you stay past your lease?

Many tenants wonder: “What happens when your lease is up?” The laws on this topic can differ significantly depending on the state you live in. Hopefully, you can arrange a deal with your landlord that would accommodate you both by either renewing the lease or establishing a month-to-month contract. However, if it is not possible, it would be best to find another place to live and move out before the landlord starts the eviction process to avoid damaging your rental history reputation as a tenant, as eviction will come up on your background checks for at least seven years.

What happens if a tenant refuses to leave after the lease expires?

If they refuse to leave after their lease expires, the tenant can become a tenant at will or sufferance, or a trespasser. The difference lies in whether or not the landlord accepts further rent from the tenant.

If the landlord receives rent, eviction can become challenging. If the landlord refuses the rent, it puts them in a better position to force the tenant to vacate the property.

How do you politely ask a tenant to move out?

Typically, if they continue to pay you rent after the lease ends, it is acknowledged as month-to-month tenancy, and you as a landlord will have to serve them with a 30-day notice if you want them to leave. If your next question is: “How long can a tenant stay after the lease expires?” the answer typically depends on the agreement between the tenant and landlord.

More From Our Blog

Renting out property can be a great source of income, but it isn’t always smooth sailing for the landlord. Aside from rent collection and potential disputes over maintenance costs, there are a few other scenarios that can complicate the landlord-tenant relationship. One of these is guests overstaying their welcome.     These are individuals who stay at a property for an extended period of time without the landlord’s explicit permission. That’s why it’s important to answer the fundamental question: when does a guest become a tenant?   Everyone has friends that need a place to stay while they’re between jobs or family members that fall on hard times. But the lease should always reflect the presence of individuals who are living at your property for several months. After all, these long-term guests are a liability for both the tenant and the landlord. Keep reading to learn how to identify and deal with these situations.  Guest vs. Tenant - Is There a Difference? Tenants typically have a lease or at least a verbal agreement with the landlord, which obliges them to pay rent and permits them to make maintenance requests. Guests don’t. A guest visits occasionally and doesn't have any financial or legal obligations. Depending on their agreement, tenants can welcome guests and allow them to stay over for a certain period of time without the landlord’s approval.  The lines get blurry when the term “occupant” comes into play. While some see occupants as anyone staying the night, the main difference between a tenant and an occupant is that the latter might reside at a property, but the obligations of the lease still fall exclusively on the tenant.  Occupants are most commonly children. You aren’t under any legal obligation to add them to the lease, and they cannot be treated as tenants. Whatsmore, everyone is clear about the fact that they are covered by the tenant’s rent.      Guests, on the other hand, can overstay their welcome, especially if the costs of them living on the property start piling up. So whether you want your partner or an old college buddy to stay at your place for a while, it’s important to ask: how long can a tenant have a guest?.  Here, it’s important to make a distinction between a few scenarios that may cause confusion. For instance, if a college student comes back home every winter/summer break but always returns to school when the vacation is over, he is just a guest. However, if someone moves in because they’re no longer in school, that person becomes a tenant. Also, anybody visiting their children or helping out with a newborn is a guest. That’s not the same thing as an elderly person moving in with relatives because they’re incapable of living on their own.  How Many Days Can a Tenant Have a Guest Visiting in the Home? The answer to this question usually depends on the agreement between the landlord and the tenant. The rules should be outlined in the guest policy section of the lease. Most landlords don’t allow guests for more than 14 days during a six-month period. However, landlords can have stricter rules, and it’s within their right to put them in writing. And while most property owners will request permission to conduct a thorough screening of their tenants, this isn’t an option with guests due to existing legal constraints. That’s another reason why communication with the landlord is essential. Tenants who plan to host someone for a longer period of time should get prior approval from the landlord. How and When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?   The most common way for a guest to become a tenant is by adding their name to the lease. However, in practice, the courts can recognize many different circumstances as proof that a guest is actually a tenant. For example,  if a landlord accepts money or another kind of compensation from a guest for their stay, the guest automatically earns the rights of a tenant. Additionally, if someone enters into a verbal agreement with the tenant and is covering part of the rent, they can be considered tenants. In some states, any guest who stays for longer than two weeks is considered a tenant by default.  Can a Landlord Prohibit Guests? Technically, landlords can’t prohibit their tenants from having guests over. However, they can add sections to the lease that cover the tenant’s rights concerning visitors. But there are a few other factors to consider. For example, federal occupancy laws tell the landlord how many people are allowed to stay in each bedroom, while zoning laws can even limit the type of relationships that those renting in certain areas can have.  That said, most landlords don’t really care how many guests the tenant has as long as they don’t receive noise complaints from neighbors and there isn’t any illegal activity going on like drug use. If any of these guests are thinking about establishing residency in a home, the landlord needs to be notified, and the lease agreement needs to be updated.    Talk to the Tenant  Every situation is different, and the landlord needs to be open to the tenant’s side of the story. The guest can be a family member or a friend who needs a place to stay until they get back on their feet. It could be someone trying to escape an abusive relationship or a special somebody who wants to move things to the next level, but the tenant isn’t sure about adding such an occupant to a lease yet. 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However, if the landlord and tenant can’t come to an agreement, the landlord should consult with a lawyer. Considering the fact that each state has its own laws on tenancy, legal advice may be necessary in order for the landlord to resolve the situation. In some cases, the best solution may be to come to a temporary house guest agreement that benefits all parties.
By Vladana Donevski · March 01,2022
If you are renting out residential property such as a house, apartment, or vacation cottage for the first time, you may expect that your homeowners’ insurance will cover all the costs in case of a natural disaster, accident, or any other damaging event. Such an assumption is a recipe for disaster. Luckily, there is a type of coverage for landlords that can protect you from all threats related to renting out a property. But what is landlord insurance, how does it work, and do you actually need it? Keep reading to find out. Why Do You Need Landlord Insurance? Landlord policies offer protection similar to homeowners’ coverage, such as dwelling insurance in the event of a fire or burglary. The main difference between the two types of insurance is that most homeowner policies only apply to owner-occupied properties. Should you start renting out your real estate to someone else, the coverage will no longer apply. 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However, given that rental properties are more prone to accidents and damage, you shouldn't be surprised if insurers ask 15% to 25% more for landlord coverage than they would for homeowners insurance of the same property. Here’s a tip for shopping around for landlord coverage: Remember to ask your home insurance provider for bundle options. If you sign up for homeowners’ and landlords’ insurance through the same company, you may be eligible for a discount.
By Milica Milenkovic · September 24,2021
If you’re facing potential property foreclosure, one of your many worries is probably what happens to the tenants currently renting it. Will they be evicted? Can they sue you? You’re not alone - with one in 12,448 properties in the US getting foreclosed, this scenario is far from uncommon. That’s why it’s always advisable, not just for the tenants but for the landlords as well, to get acquainted with the topic and learn what happens to tenants when a property is foreclosed, their rights and obligations in such cases.  What Is a Foreclosure and How Can You Avoid It? No one wants to see their property foreclosed. There are various ways in which you can attempt to avoid it. The good news is that house foreclosures typically don’t happen overnight. Instead, the process can take up to a year or even longer, allowing landlords enough time to find a more palatable solution by, for example, resorting to debt consolidation. Like any foreclosure, foreclosure on a rental property typically happens when the homeowner has violated the terms of a mortgage loan, either by failing to make timely payments or by defaulting. It is, in essence, the repossession by a mortgage company of a property that is being leased to a third party.  What happens in foreclosure is that the homeowner receives the legal foreclosure notice, after which the property is seized and sold at a public auction. The mortgage companies can start the process as early as 60 days upon a missed payment, which is why it’s vital to stay on top of your mortgage payments.  Foreclosure can be avoided provided that the landlord takes action as soon as possible. This is, altogether, the least painful option not just for the homeowner but for tenants facing eviction from a foreclosed home as well. One of the first things you can do is contact the mortgage company and try to reach an agreement to avoid foreclosure. You may also not be aware that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress to help people get through the COVID-19 pandemic, allows homeowners to claim forbearance and freeze their monthly mortgage payments for up to 12 months.   However, if foreclosure is imminent, it’s important to know the exact tenant rights when the landlord is in foreclosure and what role they have in the process. After all, these tenants have most likely been carefully selected through thorough tenant screening procedures and have been regularly paying their rent. One could argue that their indignation at the prospect of being evicted is entirely justified. That’s why in the next section, we’ll go into detail about the legislation protecting tenants’ rights, possible sanctions awaiting landlords, and what you can do to avoid them. Heads-up: Being open and honest in your communication is the best way to handle the situation. The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 From 2009 until 2014, the PTFA regulated these situations, with the principal premise being that the lease comes first. Under this act, regardless of what happened with the property, including foreclosures, the lease terms were to be followed in full. Even month-to-month tenants and renters without a lease were covered, as the new buyer had to provide them with a 90-day notice before asking them to move out. There was a slight exception for people looking to live in the property they bought at a foreclosure sale that was already occupied by a tenant. Namely, what happens to tenants when such property is sold is that the new buyer, although they are obliged under the PTFA to issue them the same 90-day notice (the notice length is even longer in some states), doesn’t have to wait for the lease to expire.  There is also the “cash for keys” option that new owners might offer renters. Within this deal, renters would get paid to vacate the property early. Note that, in some states, the new owner must initiate an eviction proceeding against the renter - and it takes a judge’s warrant to start the eviction process. No one would be able to hold this eviction process against the renter for renting a foreclosed home, which is important to note if one is worried about having an eviction on their public record. In fact, in some states, such as New York and Illinois, the records are sealed so that no one can use the fact against the renter, and it won’t come up even in the best background checks. Using the information against the tenant in the future is also prohibited by the law. The Abolishment and Reintroduction of the PTFA When the PTFA was done away with in December 2014, many were left wondering or even panicking about being a tenant in foreclosure, as the rules depended mainly on the state the renter lived in. The main understanding was that if the original landlord sold the property regularly, the new owner must respect the lease, but that the lease would end in case the property was foreclosed. Luckily, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed into law on May 24, 2018, brought back the PTFA permanently. Many misconceptions circling the internet and outdated information caused some panic, but in reality, the PTFA still protects tenants’ rights in  foreclosure.  What Are Tenants’ Obligations During a Foreclosure? As mentioned before, foreclosures typically don’t affect tenants until eviction notice goes into effect. In this light, tenants are still obliged to pay rent on the property, and the landlord, in return, is still obliged to make repairs and maintain the property in a habitable condition.   However, in particular circumstances, a receiver might be appointed to handle the tenant-landlord agreement while the foreclosure is in progress. In those situations, the receiver takes on the landlord’s duties, including collecting rent after foreclosure, managing repairs, and other tasks usually handled by the landlord or property management company. Occasionally, the new owner of a foreclosed home doesn’t even establish any kind of communication with the tenant, which can pose a problem, especially with maintenance. Under these circumstances, the new landlord still has the right to collect the rent and any repair receipts. This way, the tenant can negotiate the costs of repairs against the rent due with the new owner.   Further Reading When Does a Guest Become a Tenant? What Is a Sublet, and Should You Be Subletting Your Place? “How Long Can a Tenant Stay After the Lease Expires?” and Other Questions About Holdover Tenants Communication is Key Since what happens in foreclosures is not pleasant for either the landlord or their tenants, good communication between the two parties is essential.  One of the tenants’ legal rights is to sue the old landlord in small court for any expenses they may have to pay to relocate, such as moving costs or the difference between the rents for the remaining months of the lease. You might be able to avoid this if you inform your tenants of foreclosure as soon as possible and try to communicate a solution even before the official process.
By Vladana Donevski · March 14,2022

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