'My Landlord Is Selling the House I Rent—What Are My Rights?'

Cathie Ericson

Since landlords own the property you're living in, they do have the right to sell it whenever they want. Still, that doesn't mean that they can just kick their renters or tenants to the street immediately or mess with your security deposit.

Tenants have rights, too! If a buyer comes along and your building suddenly has a new owner, this new landlord might make some changes that affect the spot you rent.

Here's what you should know and how to handle things when a landlord is selling your rental property, whether it's a fab duplex or regular ol' apartment.

Do you have to move when a landlord sells to a new owner?

Don't just assume you and the other tenants have to worry about eviction or vacate the place you're renting immediately.

If you're lucky, your old landlord might sell to a buyer who, as the new landlord, will be happy to sign a new lease with the current tenants once the sale goes through. So, check with the new owner.

But if that's not an option, or you're unhappy with the new lease terms, you might have to move out and find a new place to rent.

When do you have to move from the rental property?

If you’re on a month-to-month lease, in most states, landlords are required to give a 30-day written notice to tenants to vacate if they decide to sell to a buyer or new landlord. Some areas have different rent laws, though, so it’s wise to check. For example, lucky Seattle folks who rent have a 60-day notice; tenants can check their state here.

If you signed a fixed-term lease for longer—like a year or two—you likely have the legal right to stay put in the place you're renting until your lease ends. Even if the house or apartment sells before your lease is up, the new owner has to respect that legally binding contract with the tenant.

“A lease is tied to a rental property, not an owner,” explains Lucas Hall, founder of Landlordology. So even if the homeowner changes, the lease remains the same for the renter or tenant.

“Even a specific month-to-month agreement will transfer," adds Hall.

Check for a 'lease termination due to sale' in your renter's clause

Also check whether your contract contains a "lease termination due to sale" clause. In that case, whatever is stated there stands; even long-term leases might not have any protection for the tenant, Hall notes.

In other words, if you have eight months left on your lease but your contract says the lease termination due to sale is 30 days, then 30 days is all the renting time you get—even if you've paid a security deposit. Your landlord will want you out so the new owner can take over.

One piece of advice—which we’ll admit is information you maybe could have used sooner—is that you can negotiate how much time a landlord is required to give you if he terminates a lease due to sale.

The catch is, you have to do it before you become a tenant and sign the lease for your rental home.

“For example, if the landlord wants the option to terminate the lease due to sale to a buyer, the tenant could require the landlord give at least 60 days’ notice, and/or require a 'buyout' of a certain amount of money,” Hall says.

If it’s too late to put this advice into action this time around, keep that little nugget in mind when signing with a new landlord. You can also get up-to-date info related to landlord-tenant law from a Realtor® or real estate agent.

Look into a tenant relocation allowance from the landlord

It sure would be nice if your landlord paid tenants to move out of the apartment they rent, wouldn't it?

Admittedly, it is rare, but there are some circumstances under which your landlord might be obligated to fork over some cash in order to get tenants to vacate, due to the fact that he's decided to sell the building to a new owner or upgrade it to condos.

In San Francisco, for example, under the Ellis Act, each tenant receives $5,555.21 from the landlord if evicted from a unit. This is known as a tenant relocation allowance, or tenant relocation payment, and should be included in your state’s landlord and tenant laws.

Keep your landlord in line

While you're still living in the rental, you have basic tenant rights. For example, your landlord can't threaten eviction, cut off your water or electricity, enter your rental apartment unannounced (except in an emergency), or hire a remodeling crew to work until 2 a.m.

If you think your landlord is violating your tenant rights, contact a tenant lawyer or your local housing authority for help.

What happens to the security deposit that you gave the landlord

Your landlord is legally required to return your security deposit, minus any needed repairs or cleaning, after you move. State laws vary, but generally a landlord has 14 to 60 days to send you a check for the security deposit after you move out of the apartment.

When the time comes, treat the move like any other. Make sure you remove all of your property, clean the vacant rental, and return the keys to the landlord. If possible, do a walk-through with your landlords, and give them a written notice that includes your new address.

That way, you can end things on a good note with the landlord before you move out, and get on with life (and finding a new place to rent—or perhaps becoming a buyer yourself!).

Angela Colley contributed to this report.

Here's what you should know and how to handle things when a landlord is selling your rental property, whether it's a fab duplex or regular ol' apartment.

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