Take a breath. It’s not as complicated or worrisome as you might be imagining. You don’t have to move out tomorrow. You have rights and the process is guided by laws meant to protect you when your landlord is selling your home.
The bad news is obvious but it’s worth stating: Your landlord owns the property you’re living in. They have the right to sell it whenever they choose to. You don’t have any legal say in the matter.
On the flip side, the good news is your lease is tied to the property, not to a specific landlord. No matter who owns the property where you live, your lease remains in effect for that property. And more importantly, you retain your basic renters’ rights.
Always refer to your lease first
In any scenario involving a landlord/tenant situation, always check your lease first. Some leases have a “Termination Due To Sale” clause. This is a statement in your lease that governs what happens if your landlord sells your property. If this clause exists, whatever it says is law. If it states you have 30 days to vacate regardless of how much time is left on your lease, it’s time to start packing.
If you wish to have protections spelled out in your lease in case the property is sold, you can negotiate to have a clause written into a lease that does not have one, either before you sign your original lease or before your landlord decides to sell.
Protections for long-term leases
Assuming you don’t have a sale clause in your lease, what then? Remember, your lease belongs to the property no matter who owns it. It’s a binding contract between you and the property, not you and your current landlord.
Whatever the end date of your lease is, whether it’s in two months or two years, that remains your active lease. You have the right under the law to stay under the terms of your current agreement until it ends, based on the language of your lease.
And if your lease states that it automatically renews at the end of the lease period, your new landlord must also abide by that and any language concerning the rent price. This remains in effect until either you or the new landlord terminate the lease based on what’s spelled out in the agreement.
Protections for month-to-month leases
This is also the case if you’re on a month-to-month lease — mostly. Like any lease, the terms spelled out within still cover you under a different landlord. But as a month-to-month lease is made to be temporary, you’re most likely going to have to move out or renegotiate with a new owner.
But even in this case, you’re still protected under the law depending on your locale. Most states and cities require owners to offer a month-to-month tenant 30 days to vacate, and some like Seattle extend that to 60 days. And a lucky few, such as those in Portland, even get a full 90 days to move out.
Open lines of communication
But in any of these scenarios, communication is always your friend.
While your new landlord is required to abide by the terms of your current lease, that doesn’t mean that you have to vacate at the end of your old lease term. Ask the new owner what his or her plans are after your lease is up. If both of you are satisfied with the current terms, renewal should be a breeze. And if you want to renegotiate your next lease (or your current one), just talk with the new landlord about your options.
During any transition between owners and during the sale process, you have rights.
Your landlord cannot cut off your water, electricity or other utilities or your access to your residence, either as a negotiating tactic, in a transition to a new owner or as a cost-saving measure.
He or she cannot unilaterally decide to move all your furniture to replace your carpet, hire a crew to remodel your apartment in the middle of the night or cause you any other undue or unusual inconvenience.
The time the building is up for sale is no different than any other period of your residence, meaning the landlord is still required to give you 24-hours’ notice before entering your apartment, whether it’s to make upgrades or to show the space to a potential buyer. And even with notice, such incursions must be done during reasonable hours, and they’re forbidden from leaving the door unlocked to allow for a showing. These same rules apply to a real estate agent, as well.
And at the time the sale is final, your landlord is required to return your security deposit or transfer it with your knowledge to the new owner. Now would be a good time to ask them to verify where your security deposit is being held in escrow.
Conversely, you have obligations, as well. Even if you plan on moving out upon the completion of a sale, you must still pay your rent in full and on time while your lease is in effect. You can’t require your landlord to only offer showings while you’re present. And you’ll have to keep your apartment clean, straightened and in a condition that’s suitable for showings until the building is sold.
Does this all sound very exhausting and burdensome? Some municipalities even allow you to receive a “Tenant Relocation Allowance.” For example, in San Francisco, you’re eligible to receive more than $5,000 under the Ellis Act if you’re evicted from your apartment under no fault of your own. While this is highly unlikely, you can ask your landlord for a discount or refund on your rent to cover your inconvenience. If you have an open relationship with him or her, they should be amenable to this request.