My lease is law!
March 30, 2012 11:46 AM   Subscribe

As a tenant, what are my options when the landlord wants to break my lease?

I live in the top level of a split-level house. I signed my lease in August and it doesn't expire until July. My landlord recently sold the house, and with that, the lease. The new owners want to have us out by the end of April so they can move in. We weren't expecting this so soon and it's come as kind of a shock. I live in Provo, Utah so it's really hard to find a clean, moderately spacious apartment that allows cats in such short time and for so cheap. We pay $595 a month plus gas and electricity.

I just need to know if I should accept that I need to hurry and move or if there's something I can do to fight this. Or at least get compensated for having to move to most likely what will be a more expensive apartment.
posted by Marinara to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the law in Utah, but, generally, if the owner wants you out because they want to move in themselves, they are allowed to do that, providing they give something like 60-days notice.
posted by Paquda at 11:49 AM on March 30, 2012

Probably there should be a clause in your lease detailing what happens in this case. I've been in this situation and the landlord was bound to keep renting to me, so they paid me to agree to break the lease. However, that may not be the case with your lease.
posted by zvs at 11:50 AM on March 30, 2012

When a home is purchased, the new owner takes the home subject to the prior owner's lease or rental agreement with the tenant. If a new owner is evicting a tenant after purchasing a home, the tenant should be served with a 15-day no cause notice if the tenant is on a month to month or other periodic tenancy. Otherwise, the tenant has a right to live in the home until the lease expires.

posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check your law, but in most states the new owners have to honor the lease, now they may not, or they may not want to. No one really wants to go through the bother of going through the court system.

This actually happened to me when I bought my house. Part of our contract was that the previous owner give the tenants their legal, 60 days notice. This didn't happen, so when we showed up to move in, they said "who the fuck are you?" Nice. The previous owner had cut off the water and gas, so they were almost squaters.

I gave them 200 dollars each and two days and they gladly took it. One of them couldn't find a place for two extra weeks and couldn't afford to pay any rent, so oddly enough, he was a professional painter and he painted the two additional weeks we ended up living with him. I know that sounds crazy, it was a little, but it was what worked out.

I offered to let them store anything they couldn't take in rubbermaids on the deck for up to a month. So I would try to have a human to human conversation with them and just see where you all can work together to find a soultion that is ok for everyone.
posted by stormygrey at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Without referring to the lease and then your state renter's association, this is all kind of moot.

Utah Renter's Handbook for your perusal.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It looks like you're safe until the end of your lease:

If a new owner is evicting a tenant after purchasing a home, the tenant should be served with a 15-day no cause notice if the tenant is on a month to month or other periodic tenancy. Otherwise, the tenant has a right to live in the home until the lease expires.

(In many places where this is the law, landlords offer to pay you to break the lease early. But you do not have to agree.)
posted by jeather at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

This link (and others linked there) may be helpful.

The lease should say what will occur in that case. Absent that, local law will apply.

According to this link:
If you have a lease for a specified period of time, there cannot be any changes other than the ones you agree with or that are permitted by the lease.
You should make some phone calls to a lawyer or renter's associate familiar with your local law for guidance. Make sure you have a current copy of your lease on hand.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:56 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, get a copy of the lease and take it to a property rights lawyer who will give you a free initial consultation. This could very well be a situation where a "hey, asshole, you want some of this?" letter from an attorney (which, depending on the attorney, could be pretty inexpensive) may be enough.
posted by griphus at 11:59 AM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would consult with an attorney or tenants organization, but the first step you should take is simply sending a letter, certified mail, to your new landlords stating that your lease ends on Month/Date/Year and that under Utah State Code (cite the provision) you expect it to be honored until that date. The key thing here is that you are showing you know the law (and maybe they do not). Only if you face further pressure need you escalate to an attorney saying essentially the same thing.

It is very important that you understand you cannot be removed from the premises without a court order. This means they will actually have to file an eviction lawsuit against you. Unless they have some other means (you have an unauthorized pet, you damaged the property, etc. -- or something underhanded?), they shouldn't be able to break your lease in court. If you stand your ground, you should at least be able to delay things long enough to find another place.

Realistically, a landlord would be foolish to pursue an expensive, uncertain eviction with only a few months left on a lease. But not everyone (especially a newbie landlord) will be that sensible. Consider their situation from a strategic sense -- did they have their other house on the market and it is now sold? That's not your problem, it's theirs. But it may tell you how energetically they will be champing at the bit.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

How badly do you want to stay? I have a few friends who've had their moving expenses and a couple thousand dollars given to them in exchange for moving before their lease was up.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is conceivable that the new owners were mislead about the lease. You shouldn't assume that they are going to attempt to have you evicted without actually talking with them.

The lease will say explicitly what your (new) landlord's rights are here and what your rights are here. It's a bit of a waste of money to go immediately to a lawyer before you read your own lease.
posted by saeculorum at 12:15 PM on March 30, 2012

Generally, leases are contracts that run with the land, not ownership of the house. Check with a lawyer, because I'm not yours, but you shouldn't assume that the new owners are aware of your rights.
posted by smorange at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah to clarify further, you have tons more standing than my squatters, and the weight of the law is on your side. The new owners may not know any of this, so first, decide what you want in different situations, rank them, all that.

You want to stay? How long would be long enough if they asked you to be gone before July? How much money would you like to leave two months early? A couple of grand? Another option for staying, if you live in the top level, would they be amenable to living in the bottom and sharing the place for a couple of months?

Another consideration is the deposit, I can almost guarntee that they haven't even thought of that, so make sure they are aware of that and get a copy of the lease in their hand as soon as possible.
posted by stormygrey at 12:39 PM on March 30, 2012

In this situation, the customary resolution is to offer generous payment to the tenant when politely requesting that they agree to break the lease and voluntarily move very expediently. Math: tenant should be getting enough cash in hand to cover first month, last, and security on a comparable new space available on the market today (which may or may not be equivalent cost to what they're currently paying -- but they've got legal right to keep the below-market rate if they choose, so be dickish about this at one's own risk), plus mover costs, an inconvenience/lost-time penalty (we all know what a huge PITA time suck it is to move, right?), and a "thank you for letting us displace you for no good reason as far as your tenancy behavior is concerned" gratuity.

As a landlord, of course I make this offer conditional on stuff like the place being turned over in [carefully enumerated] nice condition and with most of it payable only upon handing over the keys by mutually-agreed deadline day.

Tenant and landlord both walk away from the relationship happy. Hopefully your landlord, or at least her/his attorney, is enlightened.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:05 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I would take the position that you have a lease to live there through the end of July. And you are willing to move out early, but only subject to compensation for having to move early, the added cost of a new place that may be more expensive, etc. I would take this position with the new owners and not sign anything agreeing to leave early until all the details are worked out.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:05 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was the tenant in this exact sort of situation except that I had a verbal lease that expired at the end of the school year. New owner wasn't offering anything. Just said to get out as he said verbal lease is bs. We got a free attorney from the school services. Went to court. With four months remaining before end of school, it took three months before a judge heard case. He ruled in our favor although he interpreted end of school to be Last day of classes, not graduation. You are in a strong negotiating position.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:56 AM on March 31, 2012

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