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Must I sign a new lease?
June 5, 2012 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Can my landlord require me to sign a new lease, even though we've been on a month-to-month basis for more than a year?

Following a layoff, my family and I picked up and moved cross-country to California about 18 months ago. Without jobs, we had difficulty finding property management companies that would consider renting to us. Finally, we found a place that suited our needs well enough, and began negotiating directly with the property owner.

Since we'd cashed in some retirement accounts to fund the move, we had plenty of cash, so to encourage the owner to rent to us, we paid the first three months in advance, along with a security deposit equal to one month's rent. Even still, he was hesitant to rent to us, and said he'd prefer to do a six month lease, just in case we weren't working out.

This all happened December 1, 2010. That lease ended May 30, 2011 (incorrectly written as May 30, 2010 on the lease), and we've been living here without a lease since that time. The rent has remained the same that whole time ($1600).

We got a new lease in the mail from them today, explaining that we need to sign a new one-year lease, and that they find it necessary to raise the rent $50 per month. I'm not excited about the increase, but I'm okay with it. What I do have a problem with is signing a year-long lease. We're not sure we'll stay in town, and even if we do, this isn't a home where we'd like to stay (it's too small now that our oldest is living with us while in college).

So, long story short, two questions:

1. Can I just refuse to sign a new lease, even while agreeing to the rent increase? That'd be my preference.

2. Does it matter that they are making the new terms effective July 1, but we just got notified today? I have no idea if a month's notice is required legally, but it would seem logical.

As mentioned above, we're in California. All responses are welcome. Thanks in advance!
posted by unclejeffy to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sure, you can refuse to sign the lease. He can try and evict you if he wants.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:43 PM on June 5, 2012


California Department of consumer affairs
California Tenant's Guide (pdf)

I recommend working your way through the PDF. Generally in CA, after the lease is up you go month to month. If you post your city, it may help determine if there are additional rent laws that apply.
posted by just.good.enough at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2012


California landlord tenant law.

You have to be given 30 days notice of rent increases. Generally you need to be given 60 days notice to move out, which is what they can do if you refuse to sign a new lease.

If you have issues, document everything and contact the appropriate govt officials in the link. Make sure you get any notices to move, etc, in writing as well.

And empower yourself: read the law.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:54 PM on June 5, 2012


Since you're on a month-to-month, he can terminate your unwritten lease at any time, as long as he gives the proper notice. If he doesn't have the lease by whenever he wants it, he is completely within his rights to give you 30 days notice at that time. It doesn't sound like he's done that yet, unless he said either sign the lease or be out by July 1st? So you could buy yourself another month probably, assuming he won't budge about the lease, but why not try just talking to him first and asking if you can come to another agreement.
posted by brainmouse at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Civil code.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:01 PM on June 5, 2012


Just talk to your landlord! Agree to the increase, decline to sign the lease.

It really shouldn't be a problem.


Yes what city are you in? Are you likely protected by stabilization laws? If so, you can not be evicted for accepting the increase but refusing the lease. IANAL, but I'm in California and pretty sure about this.

Finally, yes, 30 days.

Overall your landlord sounds sloppy. Try talking first.
posted by jbenben at 10:40 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can my landlord require me to sign a new lease, even though we've been on a month-to-month basis for more than a year?

The short answer is yes.
A month-to-month is typically an agreement of an unsteady arrangement on both parties' halves. Usually the writing states that either party can terminate the lease with certain notice (usually thirty days). If it didn't, there would be no such thing as a month-to-month lease because there would be almost no upside for the landlord.

I've only seen two places offer month-to-month (in my personal living experience), one for an additional $40/month in a place that say so much turnover and evictions they were desperate to hang onto ANY on-time paying tenant, even if only for an extra two months, and one in a nicer place but where the rent DOUBLED if you were month-to-month.

We got a new lease in the mail from them today... Does it matter that they are making the new terms effective July 1, but we just got notified today?

Check the law and check the letter. 30 days doesn't seem unreasonable, but there are places where it's 45 days or 60. Also, typically if something is mailed it goes not by receipt but by post-mark...so if it's post-marked on May 30th, he's in a 30 day notice window....but if it's post-marked June 3rd he's not.... But then again maybe not - sometimes they do allow times to start from receipt of a letter....


Can I just refuse to sign a new lease, even while agreeing to the rent increase?

Nope. You could talk to him about this, but again, month-to-month leases are a losing scenario for the landlord. If you really want to stay here, you cannot simply agree to pay the increase in rent - because then you would be on equal footing with the year-lease tenants, but less stable. You can discuss going month to month with him, but you would have to be prepared to offer a GREATER increase in rent than the one he's imposed on you.

Just an example, my lease is up, and I can renew a year lease at a 3% rent increase. I can also choose a month to month, but it's at a 6% increase (yes, I am living in the eviction-prone building now).

You would really need to make it worth his while.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:46 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My landlord did exactly this to me last year. I agreed to the rent increase (I'd lived there three years without any rent increase, fair enough) but got him to cut the lease term down to six months. His big thing was he didn't want to look for a new tenant in the dead of winter, when the market is not in landlords' favor. I was fine with that since I had no desire to move in the winter anyway.
posted by olinerd at 1:19 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a real, definitive answer, consult a tenants' rights organization in your municipality. They exist.

But short answer:

1. Can I just refuse to sign a new lease, even while agreeing to the rent increase? That'd be my preference.

Sure. And he can give you notice to move out in compliance with local statutes, probably 30 days notice. It's not as simple as just giving you the boot, in that there are likely certain hoops he has to jump through, but as far as the ultimate result goes, he's holding all the cards.

2. Does it matter that they are making the new terms effective July 1, but we just got notified today? I have no idea if a month's notice is required legally, but it would seem logical.

Maybe. But that isn't going to be able to let you continue month-to-month if the landlord doesn't want to do it anymore. At best, it buys you a few extra days' notice.

The fact that you don't want to sign the lease is probably the reason the landlord wants you to sign: you aren't sure about your situation. He doesn't want to deal with that, and doesn't really have to.
posted by valkyryn at 6:07 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Things are often up for negotiation, regardless of what the controlling law or rules may be. I strongly agree with jbenben's suggestion to talk with your landlord and ask for what you want.

Incidentally, nothing says a new lease has to be for a year. If a year is too long for you, you may be able to negotiate, say, a six month lease.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:26 AM on June 6, 2012


I've only seen two places offer month-to-month (in my personal living experience), one for an additional $40/month in a place that say so much turnover and evictions they were desperate to hang onto ANY on-time paying tenant, even if only for an extra two months, and one in a nicer place but where the rent DOUBLED if you were month-to-month.

FWIW, It's completely normal in the Bay Area for rents to go month-to-month after a year lease, with no increase. I've never lived in a place that did otherwise, and this is in a historically very tight rental market, but with very good renter's protections. However, Southern California may be different- and that just shows the problem of applying generalizations about rental markets in different geographical areas.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:13 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the tenancy is allowed to continue after the lease lapses, it becomes month-to-month--which is a fairly normal occurrence, especially with arrangements that were already somewhat informal. That's not the situation here. I'd second the suggestion of asking the landlord to give you another 6 month lease, perhaps with the understanding that when it expires and you've been there for a year you'll either sign on to a normal one year lease or quit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:45 PM on June 6, 2012


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