What Are My Rights as a Tenant Without a Lease?

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If you rent a property without a written lease, you are what is known as a "tenant-at-will." You have several protected rights as guaranteed for all renters by your state laws. Having no lease also may benefit you in certain situations. Your status as a tenant-at-will generally affects the length of notice required for various actions by you or your landlord, such as lease termination or eviction.

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Written vs. Implied Lease

You don't need a written lease to rent a property and retain common renter's rights. You have an implied lease based on your oral agreement with your landlord. The length of the lease is usually at least as long as the period between your rent payments, but this varies by jurisdiction. For example, if you pay your rent every month on the first, then you have an implied month-to-month lease.

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While a written lease often contains multiple clauses that describe the rights and responsibilities belonging to both you and your landlord, it's important to note that your state or local landlord-tenant laws apply even when there is no written lease or tenancy agreement. For example, if the laws in your state require your landlord to give you 24 hours' notice before entering your residence to make repairs or to perform an inspection, your landlord must abide by this requirement even though you don't have a written lease.

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Lease Termination Options

If you want to move out, you can do so by giving your landlord notice that is at least as long as the lease period. The notice period should end on the day you usually pay rent. For a month-to-month lease, this means that you have to tell your landlord that you want to move out on the day you pay your last rent, one month before you actually vacate the property. You don't have to pay any penalty because you don't have a lease.

Similarly, your landlord doesn't usually need to provide a reason for not renewing your monthly tenancy. According to US News & World Report, Your landlord can send you a notice informing you that she won't be renewing your agreement and that you must be out of your rental unit on a specified date, which is, in many places, at least 30 days after your next rent due date. This means that you will typically have at least a month to find a new place to live and move out, though you may be able to negotiate with your landlord for extra time.

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Getting Your Security Deposit Back

When you move into the rental property, you may be required to pay the landlord a security deposit in case you damage anything in the property. Your landlord has to give you back your security deposit, minus any deductions, within a certain period of time after you move out and return the keys. Depending on your state laws, this time period may be shorter for a tenant at will. In Maine, for example, the limit is 21 days for a tenant at will and 30 days for a tenant with a lease.

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Understanding Eviction Notices

Eviction is a legal process through which a landlord can have a tenant legally removed from a rental unit. States and local laws specify grounds for eviction, which usually include non-payment of rent, disturbing the peace, engaging in illegal activities, violating other lease terms (such as having a pet in a no-pet building), or overstaying the end of a lease or tenancy agreement. As Nolo.com notes, you have a right to notice, and a court hearing before you can be forced from your home, even if you only have an oral lease.

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In most places, landlords are required to send you written notice before filing an eviction case in court. Depending on your jurisdiction, the notice will tell you to either resolve an issue (by paying your rent or addressing a maintenance issue) or move out within a specific time period. In some cases, you won't be given the opportunity to resolve an issue, you'll just be asked to leave.

If you don't move out or resolve the problem within the specified period, your landlord can go to court and ask the judge to order an eviction. You have a right to attend the hearing and you, or your lawyer, can present any reasons why you don't think that you should be evicted. If the judge does order an eviction, you'll receive an eviction notice and a sheriff's deputy or special constable will arrive at your place to enforce the eviction.

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