May 6, 2013 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Crap. My landlord just told me she's considering selling my house. Now what?

I've been here 5 years and I'm not ready to move! I have a kid and really want to provide stability for her and I don't have anything like the money for a move right now.

If I do have to move, I assume I should ask for some sort of settlement in the form of time and/or money - but I have no idea what, specifically, to ask for or realistically expect.

Some factoids that might be of use in answering this:

1) I live in Oakland, California.
2) I am on a month-to-month lease.
3) I am basically in "good standing" with the landlord and I believe she mostly sees me as a reliable, good tenant.
4) I sent my landlord checks for each month's rent through September. We have a verbal agreement (which she has kept) to only cash them one month at a time when rent is due. (Not sure this is relevant.)
5) I really don't want to move.
6) It's a duplex that perhaps a new owner would want to have as a rental property, but if they were to move in, they would most likely want my unit.

Finally, for those who want to simply recommend I see a lawyer, I appreciate your good will, but won't find that advice helpful. I recognize lawyers exist but am very unlikely to see one at this point. If you have a specific, Bay Area based, low-cost legal service in mind, do feel free to recommend that if you like.

Thanks so much!
posted by latkes to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is buying the house out of the question?

Oakland landlord/tenant law most likely has clear guidelines for what you're entitled to from the landlord, if anything. Start with your lease, if you have one, to see what it says.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:59 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: Page 48 of this PDF seems relevant, though I can't tell if it's up-to-date, or if it's superseded by any Oakland regulations. One might get a settlement from a landlord to end a lease early. Since you're month-to-month, I'm not sure why the landlord would owe you anything other than your security deposit, assuming she gives you enough notice (60 days, it looks like). Your lack of a lease gives both you and your landlord additional flexibility to end your tenancy.

You can lobby her to sell to someone interested in keeping you on as a tenant.
posted by supercres at 7:13 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Finally, for those who want to simply recommend I see a lawyer, I appreciate your good will, but won't find that advice helpful. I recognize lawyers exist but am very unlikely to see one at this point. If you have a specific, Bay Area based, low-cost legal service in mind, do feel free to recommend that if you like.

IANYL, and I don't practice in California, but I'm in the dark as to why you think at this time that you need a lawyer or would have a "settlement" situation. Your landlord is thinking about selling property which she owns and which is currently rented on a month-to-month basis. This is a routine occurrence. Landlord-tenant law is mostly set up to ensure (one hopes) that landlords can't screw tenants by retaining money that does not rightfully belong to the landlord or in a select few other ways. You're entitled to whatever you are entitled to under the law, but you have not given readers of this question any reason to believe your landlord won't honor that.

You should be investing your time in the following:
  • Understanding what you are entitled to under the law to be sure any end-of-tenancy situation involves you walking away with the correct amount of prorated rent, returned deposits, etc. Tenant's rights organizations are often good for this but generally nothing beats reading the relevant statutes and any guidance documents prepared by the relevant government entity.
  • Keeping communication open with your landlord so you know what will happen even before the start of whatever the statutory notice period might be in Oakland. Finding out whether new ownership will occur and whether you can continue month-to-month or with a new lease (and the terms of that new lease).
  • Researching other places to live and preparing to move if necessary.

posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

IAAL, IANYL, TINLA. I do a fair amount of landlord/tenant work. I am not licensed in your state.

"she's considering selling my house"

Actually, your landlord is considering selling her house. Since you are a month-to-month tenant, according to the linked PDF, you would be entitled to either 30 or 60 days' notice. I cannot imagine any circumstances under which you would be entitled to a "settlement" from your landlord. The only thing you would be entitled to would be the return of your security deposit, assuming that your landlord would have no reason to withhold all or part of the deposit. your question indicates that you have a good landlord, so I would expect her to abide by the law regarding security deposits.

Your question does not indicate that there is a prospective buyer lined up. If that is the case, I think that you should start preparing by putting aside what money you can, evaluating new places to live, and lining up family and friends who could assist.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:41 PM on May 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess the context that is missing for those outside the Bay Area rental market is that in San Francisco at least, settlements for evictions are common practice. Being in Oakland, I'm not sure there's any chance of getting much because the market is less insane and the laws are less protective of tenants on this side of the Bay.
posted by latkes at 7:45 PM on May 6, 2013

settlements for evictions are common practice

What your question is talking about isn't an eviction. This is a lease termination, which is provided for by the landlord/tenant act. You are not going to be evicted. Your landlord will terminate the lease when the property is sold.

It may help to look at it this way: you cannot make anyone let you live there indefinitely anymore than anyone could prevent you from moving.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:48 PM on May 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

Why not contact the Oakland Tenants Union? I know that the word "eviction" can mean different things in different jurisdictions but this sounds like nonrenewal of lease, not eviction, to me.
posted by mskyle at 7:53 PM on May 6, 2013

The Oakland Tenants Union has the barest of bare-bones websites but might be a good resource.

Causa Justa also does housing rights stuff.

And Tanizaki, I think that in Oakland, at least, a lease termination by the landlord is considered/referred to as an eviction (of sorts.) There's an ordinance called "Just Cause for Eviction" which applies to many, many situations where a landlord might want a tenant to leave, not just your typical "tenant didn't pay rent/behaved egregiously, landlord wants them out" situation that the word "eviction" usually brings to mind.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:54 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: My landlord just told me she's considering selling my house. Now what?

I am a renter whose place was recently put on the market; here's what happened to us:

In the immediate sense - nothing happens. She's just thinking about it. It was nice of her to tell you that! Once it's on the market, they'll be occasional open houses or people coming through to view it. It would be nice of you to keep the house clean. Either it will sell or she'll give up and take if off the market; if it sells they could keep you on as a tenant, or ask you to move out (so they can renovate, move in, whatever).

Since you're on good terms with the landlord/Real Estate Agent, I'd talk with them about (and get in writing):

Timelines- How much notice you're to be given if the new owner wants you out. The Real Estate Agent selling needs to be down with this; I think with our house it was part of the sale contract that the house was tenanted and we'd get X number of weeks' notice (I think it was 6-8).

How much notice you need to give if you decide to preemptively move.

Get it in writing that if you move out before September, the remaining checks will be returned or you will cancel them. Make sure you have the check numbers, so that if this doesn't happen for some reason, you can go to the bank and cancel the checks. When you move out, there should be paperwork saying the lease is over.

I assume I should ask for some sort of settlement in the form of time and/or money...
You are not being evicted. You are month-to-month; you'd simply not have the monthly lease renewed. This is why renting sucks. Homeownership sucks in other ways, but as a tenant, you kinda just have to suck this up. This has happened to almost everyone I know at least once; one person more than once in one year! That you don't have the money to move isn't her problem. If you rent, you should ALWAYS have the money to move, because this kind of thing can happen at any time.

Things you could ask for since you know the landlord and are on good terms (I'd start with just ONE): a small decrease in rent while it's on the market in exchange for letting potential buyers traipse through your *clean* house; extra notice time (6 weeks instead of 4, or whatever). If the house is mostly tidy, you could possibly negotiate for a housecleaner to come once a week or once every two, so that it's really spiffy for inspections (good for the seller, and takes the burden off you a bit). This is not typical, but if I had known my landlords and knew they were nice/reasonable, this is what I would have asked for in exchange for the inconvenience of showing the house.

In our case, we "got" nothing. We didn't know the landlords, only the Real Estate Agent (who was great!). We kept the house super clean because we are nice. We let people traipse through it 1-2 times a week for 6 months. When our 1-yr lease ended and went month to month, we started looking for a new place (so that we'd be in control of OUR move, rather than being told to "get out by X date" and rushing around trying to find something). We found a cheaper place nearby we liked almost immediately, got it, and gave proper notice. Then our hot water heater broke, which where we live legally requires repairs within 24 hours. We went without water at all for 24, and without hot water for a week. At the end of that week they "let" us out of our lease early (so nice! *dripping sarcasm*) - this was late Thursday evening. We moved into our new place Sat (thank goodness it was empty!). We got our bond back. Eventually they fixed the water heater, took it off the market, and re-rented it; I suspect they'll wait six months and put it back on the market.

We've moved A LOT. Renting sucks. We're saving for a house so that no one can make us move again.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:57 PM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

When this happened to us we ended up buying the house. We had no intention, no interest, and no expectation that it was possible, for us to buy a house. The suggestion actually came from the property manager, who said the owners were interested because it would be easier, they wouldn’t have to put it on the market and hassle with all that. We never even met them, but it was really easy because everyone involved wanted it to be. Of course this may not have anything to do with your case.
posted by bongo_x at 8:04 PM on May 6, 2013

I was in a similar situation once in Chicago, when the building my apartment was in got sold and turned into condos. Tenants were given the option to purchase their unit before it was put up on the market, but I was planning on leaving the state in a few months anyway so that wouldn't have done me much good - so instead I ended up having to pay for an additional move to a different place, before moving out of state. Fun times.

I did what I could to look into my options, hoping that there was some way to get the landlord to help out with those extra unanticipated moving expenses, but when it came down to it there just wasn't anything I could do. In retrospect I completely understand and agree that it only made sense that I was on the hook for it all, but man, it sure didn't feel fair at the time.

If you were in a position to buy the property yourself I'd suggest you talk to your landlord about perhaps buying (maybe even it at a reduced rate and sparing her the need to go through the hassle of dealing with the housing market), but it sounds like that isn't feasible ... So unfortunately I don't have anything to offer that could help you stay put or get something in exchange for your trouble, but I wanted to chime in anyway in case a little commiseration helps. Renting can be nice in a lot of ways, but man, having less control over how long you can stay at a location sure can be a bummer.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:07 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This (specific to Oakland) mentions settlements/tenant buy-outs from a seller's perspective. That kind of thing does exist here.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:08 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the owner is planning on selling the property to a new owner and the rental units will no longer be on the market, this is called an Ellis Act eviction.

The City of Oakland web site has a section on Ellis Act Evictions. You'll want to look at the first couple of forms, the Notice of Termination of Tenancy and the Notice of Tenant Rights. There is a great deal of other information there that likely applies to you.

If you are evicted under the Ellis Act, and your income is lower than those specified in the Notice of Tenant Rights, you are eligible for two months rent as a relocation expense.

That said, this may not be an Ellis Act eviction - it is not completely clear from your description. Oakland's Municipal Codes can be found here, which has a great deal of information on other types of evictions and situations. Go to Title 8, Chapter 8.22, and you'll find Oakland's current rent control and eviction codes.

We went through the same thing in SF when the owners of our rental home decided to sell. We took a look at the rental market, the relocation benefit, and other similar homes for sale in the area. We got prequalified for loans, and made the owners an offer to buy based on this information. We ended up purchasing our house at a very fair price, and we're very glad we did.
posted by eschatfische at 8:09 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would reach out to the current owner and talk to her about a lengthy notice of 3 plus months. You can also see whether she has a preference for selling with or without a tenant. I used to be a realtor in San Francisco and sometimes buyers preferred a rented building especially if rents were decent. Some buyers are looking for investment properties and others for a place to live. It could also be that the current landlord doesn't evict you but the new one does so if you have time to save up, you're better prepared.

As you mentioned, buyouts are not uncommon to get rid of tenants in San Francisco but I'm less familiar with Oakland. I do know the rules are less strict unless you're in a protected class, which you don't appear to be. Buyouts were more common for TICs and places with really low rents.

This firm gives a free consultation so they might be worth a quick phone call. And as mentioned, think about buying it. You said it's a duplex, so renting the other unit will help cover the mortgage or you can partner with someone while they live in one unit and you in the other. (Definitely get legal help if you do that.)
posted by shoesietart at 8:09 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can't offer any advice on your local legalities but the timing might be in your favour in at least one respect. Summer is coming and, if you do have to move, summer seems the best time. You may be able to find a new place in your current neighborhood so you daughter won't have to change schools. If you do have to move to a new school district, starting at a new school as the term begins could be preferable to switching mid-term.
posted by islander at 9:25 PM on May 6, 2013

"If I do have to move, I assume I should ask for some sort of settlement in the form of time and/or money..."

Not if you're on a month-to-month lease, I suspect. You'd have the right to a 30 days notice, I'd imagine, the return of any uncashed rent checks, and presumably the ability to not pay the last month's rent, assuming you paid first, last and deposit when you moved in. (Deposit may be refunded, either in whole or in part, pending damages, within about two weeks or so of your final day.)

The good news, such as it is, is that selling usually takes time, and if the landlord evicts you during that time, they lose money... that means that it's likely in your interest -- and theirs -- to make a deal whereby the landlord can fix up your unit for the sale and show it to others, with your permission. Beats them giving you notice sooner, then doing work on the place and showing it off when vacant.

The good news, if there is any, is that you are in Oakland, which tends to have better laws for tenants than other cities. Perhaps there are some city-specific laws that would help you out here. (Sounds like their might be, judging from previous comments, though you may not qualify.)

I would contact the Oakand Tenants Union and hear what they suggest.
posted by markkraft at 9:28 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look into your rights about inspections. Here they have to give "reasonable notice" which most people take to mean 24hr, at least at first. However, both times I've been in this situation, it's devolved to the real estate agent leaving voicemail messages on my phone 10 minutes beforehand. Find out how much notice they have to give, and have a chat with the real estate agent about how they plan to do it. I haven't minded the moving generally, as they need to give a lot of notice here, whilst the tenant has to give very little, but the inspections felt intrusive, especially without notice.
posted by kjs4 at 10:52 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: When I lived in San Francisco, we tried to keep abreast of house sale issues for tenants because our landlord was very old and we thought his family might sell the house. As it turns out they didn't, but the following were helpful to us.

-- in SF, rent control protections against eviction or termination of the lease survive a house sale; Oakland may differ. Because the tenancy had a legal right to continue on the same terms with the new owner, buyouts were common when I lived there. I knew someone who got $75,000 to move out of a place they had lived in for decades in a super desirable neighborhood.
-- the SF tenants union was a source of great assistance and has a handbook that we referred to often for many issues with our landlord, the handbook is available with a membership ($30 for low income people).
-- we also availed ourselves of the SF tenant union's drop in counseling services. I'm not sure about non-SF people dropping in if you aren't a member, but if you are a member then both drop in and over the phone advice is available.

I mention all this because the Oakland tenants union website is very bare bones and I can't tell how much they offer. They will know the Oakland rights and protections better than SF, but if they don't offer much, and you can't get a lawyer, the SF group may be able to help.

Also, KALW has a weekly show called Your Legal Rights and they have Call a Lawyer nights sometimes, so you might keep an eye on the program.

Good luck.
posted by artdesk at 11:02 PM on May 6, 2013

Best answer: 2) I am on a month-to-month lease.

4) I sent my landlord checks for each month's rent through September. We have a verbal agreement (which she has kept) to only cash them one month at a time when rent is due.

A written agreement is likely to supersede any verbal agreement, but you don't say if there's something in writing for point # 2.

You might be able to argue that you've both agreed you will rent the house through September.

Ask your landlord to let you know as soon as she decides to sell the house, even if it will be awhile before it goes on the market.
posted by yohko at 12:11 AM on May 7, 2013

I agree about the month-to-month. The idea of settlements when a lease is terminated early is that there has to be compensation paid for breach of contract. Ending a month-to-month tenancy is not breach of contract. If you were three years into a five-year lease, your landlord could have to pay reimbursement for not providing the agreed five years of habitation, depending on what the lease said.

There is a possibility that the buyer would be someone looking to rent the house out, not to live in it, in which case the presence of a good tenant is a plus.

Keep communication with the landlord open.
posted by yclipse at 4:46 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's a duplex. Any chance you have friends who would like to buy the place? Or any chance you could buy with a friend and each have your own half?
posted by mareli at 5:26 AM on May 7, 2013

It may help to look at it this way: you cannot make anyone let you live there indefinitely anymore than anyone could prevent you from moving.

Not true in Berkeley and Oakland, even on a month-to-month. Tenants have significant rights to stay.

Now, while your landlord can only evict you for cause, selling the place is not cause. Being an owner of a place and moving in is cause. Paying you off, for a price that is actually spelled out in the law, is another valid way to get you to leave.

However, with a month to month lease, your landlord might have the option of raising your rent to arbitrarily high levels, depending on the type of property you rent (single-family home vs multi-unit vs ...) and whether it is under rent control or not.

Which is to say, it's complicated. Take a deep breath, talk to the local tenants' union or renters' group (the City of Oakland may have an office just for this).
posted by zippy at 8:53 AM on May 7, 2013

The idea of settlements when a lease is terminated early is that there has to be compensation paid for breach of contract. Ending a month-to-month tenancy is not breach of contract.

This is untrue in Berkeley and Oakland. Tenants can only be evicted for cause, even on a month to month lease.
posted by zippy at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Latkes, check your inbox.
posted by zippy at 10:53 AM on May 7, 2013

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