Does a New Landlord Have to Honor a Lease?

A new landlord must honor a lease as if he signed it himself.

Although landlord-tenant laws vary across the U.S., in all states a lease survives a sale unless otherwise stated in the lease itself. Tenants' rights do not change in any way with the sale of the property they rent. That is not to say, however, that the new landlord will act the same way as the former landlord, simply that he must uphold the terms of the lease.

Term Lease: a Tenant's Best Protection

A term lease specifies the period during which the lease remains in effect. It may be for six months, one year or between specified dates. Depending on its wording, the lease may conclude at the end of the term, or it may automatically become a month-to-month lease. During the lease period, no landlord – old or new – may terminate the lease, raise the rent or change any terms without the tenant's consent, unless otherwise specified in the lease. At the end of the lease term, however, the landlord may raise rent and change lease terms dependent upon state and local laws. In most places, the law requires a 30-day notice to terminate the tenancy. These rules apply whether the current landlord wrote and signed the lease, or the building has sold a dozen times since the tenant signed the lease.

Month-to-Month Lease or No Lease

If you have a month-to-month lease or no lease, a landlord may raise rent, change lease terms or terminate the lease according to underlying state or local law. Most states require a 30-day notice to raise rent, change terms or terminate tenancy. Some states, such as California, require 60 days if the tenant has lived in the building more than one year. In New Jersey and New Hampshire, eviction can only be by just cause, such as failure to pay rent. In this case, a new landlord cannot evict a tenant simply because he has purchased the building from the property owner who engaged the tenancy.

Local Rent Control

Numerous cities in several states, notably California, New York and New Jersey, have local rent control ordinances. In these cities, regardless of whether there is a lease, the law limits rent increases, often to amounts at about the rate of inflation, and requires just cause for eviction. These rules apply regardless of change of ownership. A new landlord in a rent-controlled city could change some lease terms, such as house rules, with a 30-day notice in the absence of a time-specific lease, but cannot raise rent more than the ordinance allows nor evict without just cause.

Foreclosure

Special rules apply when a property has a new owner because of a foreclosure. The 2009 national Tenants at Foreclosure Act requires the foreclosing lender to honor a lease and, for month-to-month leases or tenancies without leases, to give 90-day notices before terminating tenancies. If state or local law requires just cause eviction, that law applies, too.

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