At one time or another, most landlords find themselves with a tenant they don't want to keep.
However, ending a tenancy might not be easy unless there is cause or your lease contains a termination clause.
Termination of Lease Clause
A well-written rental document includes a termination of lease clause that permits you, as the landlord, to end the lease under certain conditions, such as when you are:
- Selling the rental property
- Moving yourself or a family member in
- Ending the lease without cause
- Terminating the lease early
If such a clause is not in the lease, chances are you can't terminate the lease early without anticipating a lawsuit from the tenant or coming to a mutual agreement.
State laws vary as to whether a landlord can remove a tenant when selling the property, so to protect yourself, have your attorney include an early termination clause in the lease.
Once you give notice, allow the tenant enough time to move, which is anywhere from 30 to 90 days. 60 days is a courteous time frame. If you're terminating a month-to-month tenancy, you must provide at least 30 days' notice to vacate, although some cities require 60 or even 90 days.
Terminating a Lease
To terminate your tenant's lease, you first need to know what's in your lease and whether you're removing your tenant for cause or without cause. Removal for cause can include instances where the tenant:
- Creates a nuisance by making excessive noise on a regular basis
- Keeps a pet when the lease forbids it
- Damages the apartment
- Sells drugs out of the apartment
- Sells anything out of the apartment, if the lease forbids it
- Fails to pay rent, usually for two months or more, depending on the state
- Violates any laws in the state, such as creating a hazardous condition or engaging in illegal activities
- Violates a clause in the lease
- Smokes anywhere in the building, if the lease prohibits smoking
- Has an expired lease
If your tenant is violating the lease, such as keeping a dog despite the lease forbidding pets, consider giving the tenant a warning in writing before you send out a termination of lease letter. A warning letter gives your tenant time to cure the breach by removing the dog or by moving out.
If you terminate the lease for cause, make sure you do your part by keeping the unit habitable. If you don't, you can expect the tenant to claim he doesn't owe any additional rent because you violated the warranty of habitability. Likewise, if you sue for eviction, the tenant can counterclaim by stating that you provided uninhabitable living conditions.
Terminating a lease without cause occurs when you don't have a reason to end the tenancy. In order for you to do so, your lease should state that you can terminate the lease early and, if so, how much notice you must provide. If you don't have that clause, you are limited to removing the tenant for cause.
Termination of Lease Letter
Notice of lease termination in a letter from the landlord to the tenant is important because you're documenting the reason why you're ending the lease. A termination letter is not a notice to quit or a notice of eviction. If, however, the tenant doesn't vacate after the effective date in the letter, you then have cause to evict for failure to comply. Likewise, if the tenant is destroying property or doing something illegal in the apartment, you can start eviction proceedings immediately.
A notice of lease termination letter should be written on the landlord's or management company's letterhead and include:
- The date of the letter
- The name and address of the tenant
- A request that the tenant vacate by a specific date
- The reason for termination
- A reference to the lease clause that permits you to end the lease
- The date you want to do a walk-through inspection
- A request for the tenant's new address so you can forward the security deposit minus any money for damages other than usual wear and tear
- A statement that the tenant must leave the premises in good or "broom-clean" condition
- A statement requiring the tenant to turn over the keys when vacating
A well-drafted termination letter allows you and your tenant to agree upon a lease termination date and helps you avoid bringing an eviction, or unlawful detainer, proceeding in court. You can draft your termination of lease letter yourself using an online template or you can hire an attorney to draft the letter for you.