Landlords can terminate a lease with proper notice if tenants don’t keep their end of the contract, which is called terminating “with cause.”
You might want to terminate a lease early with cause for a variety of reasons including unpaid rent, new occupants in the unit without permission, a pet when there’s a no-pet policy, or if your tenant is dealing drugs or violating the lease in any other way.
But what if your tenant didn’t do anything wrong but you want them to move for other reasons?
Let’s say you want to sell your house. Sure, you own the house, and you have a right to sell it any time you like. But can a landlord break a lease early just because they want to sell?
You could list it with the tenant still living at the property, but it’s easier to get the house ready and then show it when it’s vacant. In that case, it’s tempting to give your tenant notice to leave.
Or what if you want to terminate the lease because you or a relative wants to move into the house? Again, it’s your property so you can live there if you want. But can a landlord terminate a lease early so they can move in right away?
Yes, if it’s in the lease
You can put any kind of clause in your lease, including one that allows you to break the lease early. Landlords who know they want to sell soon or who anticipate moving back in at some point might put a clause in the lease that allows them to terminate the lease early, without cause.
The clause usually has language to the effect that the lease will terminate (typically after 30 days’ notice) upon sale of the property or if the landlord wishes to live in the property.
If you put this kind of clause in your lease, don’t try to sneak it in using legalese in tiny print so you can get one by on your renter. If you add this type of early termination clause, make sure you point it out to your potential tenant and make sure they understand the meaning of the clause. Think about it from their perspective: they need to know before they move in if there’s a possibility you’ll terminate the lease early.
No, if it’s not in the lease
You might not have had the foresight to know that you would sell during your tenant’s lease term or that you’d want to move in. That means you probably didn’t put an early termination clause in the lease that your tenant agreed to and signed. If that’s the case, then you can’t kick out your tenant without cause. Period. End of story.
If the lease has a fixed term, it applies to both parties—you and the tenant. Just as the tenant can’t break the lease early without being responsible for paying rent—unless and until you can rent to someone else—you can’t break the lease that your tenant signed.
But you can ask your tenant if they want to leave early. Maybe they do. Or you can offer your tenant some cash to move out early. But your tenant doesn’t have to take you up on your offer. In that case, you have to wait out the lease term before you take back your property.
Opt for a month-to-month rental agreement
Month-to-month agreements allow the landlord or the renter to terminate the arrangement, usually with just 30 days’ notice.
Look up the laws for your state, as the laws vary between states and sometimes even within cities or counties. Some jurisdictions, for example, require landlords to give 60 days’ notice, even on month-to-month agreements. And Portland, Oregon, requires landlords with month-to-month rentals to give tenants 90 days’ notice.
Make sure you know the rules for your area before you rent out your property. You’re always allowed to sell or move in to your property, but when you have tenants, you need to respect their rights under the law.