Why would a landlord offer only a six month lease?
July 5, 2012 9:28 PM   Subscribe

Why would a landlord want only a six month lease on a house rental?

My girlfriend/partner and I are looking for a house to rent in (north) Seattle (or close suburbs). After a week of searching and finding lots of competitors and lots of musty houses, we found one that we love in a great neighborhood with a surprisingly low rent. It's in good condition. We fell in love immediately and were thrilled when our application was accepted.

Thing is, the landlord wants to "try things out" with a six month lease, and this has us nervous. We are dealing with a realtor as a go-between, so it's not like we've been able to ask questions directly.

We're both about 37 years old. I'm a substitute teacher, so I don't make a ton of money, but I certainly make enough to pay the rent. My partner just got out of a two-year trade school program in Boston, so she's currently looking for work and running on savings... but we both have excellent credit (scores are well over 700), no credit history and no issues with former landlords giving bad references.

Anyone seen this sort of thing before? We're flustered and wondering if they're worried about our ability to pay rent? Or if maybe they want to jack the rent up in 6 months if the rental market gets more favorable (rents are low right now)? Or maybe the landlord expects someone in particular to be ready to move in after 6 months, and just wants to keep the place occupied?

We're not worried about covering the rent, but we are very concerned about the landlord declining to re-lease in six months. Having to move is a pain in the best of cases, but my girlfriend plans on buying some professional equipment that's gonna be a serious pain to move again once we're settled.

Is this standard practice for some sort of concern, or do we need to keep looking?
posted by scaryblackdeath to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
Two things that I've noticed about Seattle rentals that I've never seen in the other cities I've rented:

1) Letting you choose from 6, 12, or 18 month leases is common, especially in newer complexes. Usually the longer you're willing to rent, the cheaper the rent is.

2) After your lease is done, most places will let you rent month-to-month indefinitely. Or you can renew your lease.

I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by kthxbi at 9:46 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

My first guess would be that neither of you having regular employment is a likely concern. But why not ask the agent directly?
posted by zippy at 9:46 PM on July 5, 2012

It's possible his last tenant was a total dicksmack who screwed him over, and he's cautious; or he's new to renting and he's cautious.

Since you're going through a realtor, I'd talk to him about your concerns (especially the "can he raise the rent renewing after 6 months" thing). But my hunch is that he just got burned, and if you're good tenants the landlord may relax. But find out from the realtor how you can protect your interests as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 PM on July 5, 2012

It's been standard practice as far as my apartment rentals are concerned. The last couple places I lived (prior to my current one, where I renew the lease every year) started out with a 6 month lease and then transitioned to month-to-month afterwards. I stayed one of those places 5 years and my rent never went up, and I loved the place. I also loved the apartment after that, but had to leave once the economy took a dive.

I think the only thing they're guarding against is having to put the place back on the market if you decide you don't like it after a month or two. They're making sure they're at least getting 6 months of occupancy.
posted by LionIndex at 9:47 PM on July 5, 2012

Thing is, the landlord wants to "try things out" with a six month lease

Could be the landlord got screwed before (which may also be way he's using a realtor as a go-between).

But ask your realtor to find out. I'd guess that if you pay your rent, you'll be able to stay as long as you'd like, but if the chance of having to move again in 6 months is totally unacceptable to you, tell your realtor that.
posted by spaltavian at 9:48 PM on July 5, 2012

Landlord here. He's checking you out because of any number of possible reasons. After six months of you guys being great tenants he'll happily sign you up for a century.
posted by cmoj at 9:49 PM on July 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

What is the exact wording of the lease with regards to renewal after 6 months? Seattle has very strong protections for month to month tenants. It is called the Just Cause Eviction ordinance. Basically it prevents a landlord from terminating the lease unless you have habitually paid rent late, had 4 rules violations, if he is trying to sell it, or if he or a relative want to move in. If the lease is for six months only then this ordinance is not in effect. If it is six months and then converts to mo to mo then it would be in effect.

So if the lease is written for a strict six months then I would see it more as a trial period for you. If it converts mo to mo then it is about his ability to raise the rent quicker. Seattle does have rental raise restrictions that govern the notice that must be given prior to a raise but do not limit the amount of the raise itself. Check out the Seattle Tenant's Union website for more info.

-former Seattle landlord.
posted by Crashback at 9:49 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

"We're flustered and wondering if they're worried about our ability to pay rent? Or if maybe they want to jack the rent up in 6 months if the rental market gets more favorable (rents are low right now)? Or maybe the landlord expects someone in particular to be ready to move in after 6 months, and just wants to keep the place occupied?"

all of these are possibilities, add that they might be making plans to sell. while all these scenarios have various probabilities, the only way to shed any light on this with some certainty is by asking and specifying your concerns. even then you can't be certain.

when i brought up the concern about rent being raised, one of my old landlord scribbled an extra clause onto the lease specifying how much she could raise it by. that's one way of tackling one of your concerns.
posted by saraindc at 10:02 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Every rental I had in Seattle (over a four year period, which ended up being 5 different places) had a 6 month lease, so I'd say this isn't anything unusual. It seems weird now that I live in Phoenix, but I extended my lease in two places there and the landlords were happy to do it, although most of them didn't seem to care if I went month to month or did a year lease. Also, in the two places that I extended my lease at, they didn't raise my rent (one lowered it because I put work into the house!), but they were generally all up front in the lease about that possibility.

One former landlord told me it's pretty much impossible to evict someone in Seattle, and indeed he seemed to always be trying to get rid of people who weren't paying their rent. I'm guessing that's why the six-month lease is common.
posted by thesocietyfor at 10:07 PM on July 5, 2012

To know if the landlord is working some kind of angle, it'd help to know more about local housing law than I do. Where I live, I believe that month-to-month tenants receive all or almost all of the same protections around rent increases, evictions, and sale of the property as tenants who have a lease. But in your jurisdiction, that might not be the case. Or this person may not know the law.
posted by slidell at 10:17 PM on July 5, 2012

I lived in Seattle for about 7 years (and in north Seattle for most of that). I found it was not unusual to be offered, even as a long-term resident whose rent was always paid on time, to be offered options in 6 month, (sometimes) 9 month, and 12 month periods. Once was an 11 month lease offer, which I did find odd.

I found this was generally so my landlord (a big management company) could jack up my rent at every opportunity in $50 increments and take away perks (free parking).
posted by asciident at 10:38 PM on July 5, 2012

I had a similar experience to asciident and wish I'd known some of these other, less coldhearted landlords in my years in Seattle. So, definitely include the possibility that it's to jack up rent and otherwise reconfigure your rental benefits.

There's another option, too: they might be wanting to sell, and are only renting until the market is more favourable, so they'll be offering shorter terms as they feel that situation out.

Personally, I'd keep looking for a place that's willing to give you more a guarantee, if moving's going to be that painful for y'all. They are out there.
posted by batmonkey at 11:50 PM on July 5, 2012

You might ask your agent to check if this house has been a rental before, or if it has been on the sales market. If it's a for sale house that didn't sell, it's more likely to go back on the market at some point.
posted by Melsky at 3:05 AM on July 6, 2012

The last time I was a landlord and changed to a 6 month lease, it was because I was planning on selling, which I did.
posted by Jubey at 3:55 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Jubey has it. Inventory is still being held back because the housing market seems like it's about to get more expensive, and you will be kicked out as soon as it does.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:01 AM on July 6, 2012

Yeah, I'd agree with Jubey as well. I own a house that I'm renting out myself, and when you are planning on renting it indefinitely, you want longer leases. If a tenant becomes trouble in a definable way, you can kick them out regardless of the lease, because the tenant will have broken one or more of the lease provisions. But if you're thinking of selling, you're looking to the end of the lease when you'll have the opportunity to do that.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:11 AM on July 6, 2012

I'm a landlord and I've done shorter leases because I wanted to get onto a summer-summer schedule when there are more people moving and looking. Trying to rent a place in the winter can be hard. But... this doesn't explain it very well given that we are in the middle of summer. I just mean to say that sometimes a landlord may have reasons that have nothing to do with you personally.
posted by dgran at 5:24 AM on July 6, 2012

I agree with Jubey, when I read your question my first thought was, "selling".

Either way, if you want a year lease, and the landlord isn't willing to provide one, keep looking.

So many people end up in bad situations because they "fell in love" with an inanimate object. It's a house. There's one on every corner.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:42 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ruthless Bunny. If the lease is for six months then that's what it's for. If you are not "six months people" then might be best to move on. But this contract is an agreement between two parties and you will not be penalized for asking questions. Ask! And ask for what you want. "We want the place but for a year lease minimum."

But count me among the people who is considering renting their house out just until the market comes back up (somewhere between six months and ten years from now, heh).
posted by amanda at 7:07 AM on July 6, 2012

It's not at all personal. It's most likely the landlord's personal preference/standard policy.

It has nothing to do with your application.

Be good tenants.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:51 AM on July 6, 2012

I love 6 month leases. We have them hear in the SF Bay area sometimes too, though a year is more common. Don't forget that you're trying them out even more than they're trying you out.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2012

here, not hear
posted by small_ruminant at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2012

In BC it's very difficult to get rid of a problem tenant if they keep paying their rent. I use a terminating (IE: Not auto renewing) six month lease initially because it allows me to fairly quickly get rid a of a tenant that is causing problems. If they make it past the probationary period then I offer a one year. I have zero intention of selling the property.
posted by Mitheral at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2012

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