Laws on Renting a Room in a House With No Lease

A landlord can choose whether to require a lease before a tenant moves in.

A written lease might provide peace of mind to both the landlord and tenant because both parties clearly understand their financial and legal obligations. Many rental arrangements, however, often do proceed without leases. The resulting arrangement depends on whether the occupant takes the room from the homeowner or from a tenant who previously leased the house from the owner. The occupant might have a tenancy-at-will or roommate arrangement. Each party's rights and obligations depend the state's landlord-tenant laws.

An individual who occupies a room without a written lease might have a tenancy-at-will. In this type of arrangement, the tenant and landlord have a verbal agreement allowing the tenant to live in the room in exchange for payment of rent at regular intervals. For example, the landlord might require the tenant to pay rent every month on a specified date. Unlike a traditional lease, however, a tenancy-at-will does not impose a binding contract on the parties for a year or another agreed-upon length of time. A tenancy-at-will may be appropriate for a tenant who is uncertain about her future plans or who only needs to stay in one place for a short time.

Rights and Obligations of At-Will Tenants

Either the tenant or landlord may end the tenancy-at-will at any time by giving notice to the other party. The amount of notice required must equal at least one complete interval period established for the regular payment of rent for the room. Landlord-tenant laws may provide a measure of protection for tenants even when they don't have signed, written leases. States often require eviction proceedings if the landlord wants the tenant-at-will to move out. Some states might follow separate rules on eviction notices for tenants-at-will.

A roommate arrangement might arise when a new occupant moves into a room in a home already leased by a tenant who signed a residential lease agreement with the landlord. The landlord only has a legal relationship with the tenant who signed the lease, unless the landlord and the new occupant sign an additional agreement. If the roommate fails to pay rent, the landlord may only be able to pursue payment from the original tenant. Furthermore, if the roommate and the original tenant don't have a lease between themselves, the original tenant might have few legal options if the roommate fails to pay rent or causes damage to the house. Accordingly, before an original tenant allows a roommate to occupy one of the rooms in his house, he may need to consider whether the roommate should sign a sublease.

When a landlord has a problem with a tenant's roommate or another occupant not specified on the original lease for the rental house, the landlord's legal options depend on the laws of the state where the house is. Some states require legal action to specifically evict unauthorized occupants such as roommates. Some states also allow a holdover action initiated by the original tenant to evict a roommate who refuses to move out. When permitted by state law, the holdover action is a option when the roommate did not sign the original lease or a sublease before occupying the room.