What Tenants And Landlords Need to Know About Estates at Will

The Benefits and Negatives of This Living Arrangement

Picture of How Estates at Will Affect Landlords and Tenants
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The traditional landlord tenant relationship is defined by the terms of the lease agreement. In certain situations, a tenant lives in a rental property without a written lease agreement. Learn how an estate at will is defined.

What Is an Estate at Will?

An estate at will, also referred to as a tenancy at will, refers to a tenant who lives in a rental unit without a formal lease or contract. It is typically a verbal agreement between a landlord and a tenant.

The landlord has given the tenant permission to live in the property, however there is no fixed lease term or specific lease rules that must be followed. Either party can end the living arrangement at any time.

Example of a Tenant at Will

Tenants at will are common when you let a friend or family member live in your home. There are no set lease terms or set length of time the individual will stay with you. There is the assumption that the individual will not cause damage in your home and there may be an agreement between you and the tenant that the tenant has agreed to pay you rent for the lodging and to cover utilities.

Advantage of a Tenancy at Will

  • Flexibility- Not having a traditional lease with a tenant can be a good thing. Tenants at will have more flexibility in their living situation than tenants with a traditional lease agreement. They have to treat the rental property with respect, but usually do not have to worry about formal rules like security deposits, lease terms, move in procedures or walk through inspections.

Disadvantage of a Tenancy at Will

  • Landlord Can End the Tenancy at Any Time- There are negatives to be aware of in a tenancy at will situation. Since there is no formal agreement between the landlord and the tenant, the landlord does not need a specific cause to have the tenant move out of the rental. Therefore the tenant does not have the security of knowing, if they follow the lease rules, they will have a place to live for the duration of the lease term.

How Are Tenants at Will Protected?

Even though there is no structured lease agreement, tenants at will have obligations including:

  • Paying their rent on time.
  • Not causing any damage to the property in excess of normal wear and tear.
  • Giving proper notice before moving out of the rental.

Tenants at will are also entitled to basic protections under the landlord tenant law of the state where the rental property is located. These basic protections include:

Procedures to Vacate Unit

In a tenancy at will, either party can give the other party notice of the desire to vacate the unit.

  • Reason to Vacate:
    • In most states, a tenancy at will can be ended without any specific reason other than the tenant’s desire to move out, or the landlord’s desire for the tenant to move out.
  • Written Notice:
    • Each state will have different rules regarding how a tenant at will must vacate a rental unit. In general, the tenant must give the landlord written notice of the tenant’s desire to move out of the rental property. If the landlord wants the tenant to move, the landlord must also give the tenant this notice in writing.
  • How Far in Advance?
    • Again, you must check your state-specific rules to determine how far in advance a landlord or tenant must give notice before the desired move out date. In general, 30 days’ notice is the standard, but some states could require as little as 7 days’ notice, while others want as much as 45 days’ notice.

Evicting a Tenant at Will

Even though there is no formal agreement between the landlord and the tenant at will, the landlord still has the right to evict the tenant if the tenant violates basic landlord tenant law such as:

  • Paying Rent
  • Damaging the Rental Property
  • Engaging in Criminal Behavior

Different From Holdover Tenant?

The main difference between a tenant at will and a holdover tenant is that the tenant at will has the landlord’s permission to remain in the rental unit. The holdover tenant is staying in the rental without the landlord’s consent.