What Are a Landlord's Rights If There Is No Signed Rental Agreement?

A landlord generally holds most of the cards in the rental game, whether there is a lease or not. But one right that is effectively removed from a landlord's toolbox when he doesn't have a lease with his tenants is the right to evict for some violation of the verbal understanding other than nonpayment of rent. This is because, without a lease, he will have no proof the tenant violated the terms of tenancy. Rent is an exception because he will have a record of rent collection to verify the rent amount and due date.

30-Day Rule Change

Unless the tenant has a term lease whose term has not expired, a landlord can change or add rental requirements with a 30-day notice. Most states require this notice to be in writing. In the case of a landlord without a lease, the rule is the same and can be used to formalized previously unwritten rules. A landlord could specify a wide range of terms he wants to impose on the tenant and document them in writing, whether or not they were a part of the verbal agreement. The landlord without a lease could also use the 30-day notice to raise rent.

Eviction

A landlord may evict a tenant for failure to pay rent with a three- or five-day notice, depending on state law, whether there is a signed lease or not. In most places, a landlord can evict a tenant without any reason if there is no lease or a month-to-month lease. State law requires a landlord to send a 30- or 60-day notice terminating tenancy if there is no just cause for the termination. A landlord with a lease could also evict a tenant for repeated violations, and in some cases even just one violation, of a written lease with a three-or five-day notice. A landlord without a lease attempting an eviction for these reasons risks losing the eviction case and a successful wrongful eviction suit, because he does not have proof the rule existed.

Just Cause Exception

The states of New Jersey and New Hampshire prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without a good reason, such as nonpayment of rent, whether there is a lease or not. Most cities that have rent control include this prohibition as well. Just cause is defined in the state and local statutes and generally consists of failure to pay rent and violations of lease provisions.

The Effect of Rent Control

The District of Columbia and a number of cities in California, Maryland, New Jersey and New York are subject to rent control. Rent control limits how often and how much landlords can raise rents, prohibits all but just cause evictions and sometimes imposes other rules, such as those involving security deposits and the handling of utilities. All landlords, with or without a lease, must conform to the requirements of the rent control ordinances.

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