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

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Whether a tenant is residing at a rental property in which there never was a signed lease agreement, or the original lease ended and the tenant continued to rent the property month-to-month, landlords retain certain rights to the property. Lack of a signed rental agreement does not eliminate those rights, but it may make recovering possession of a rental property slightly more challenging should the need arise.

Arrangements for Collecting Rent

Typically, when there is no signed rental agreement, there is some verbal agreement between the landlord and tenant for rent. Each state has different laws that determine the recourse a landlord has. Generally, most states give tenants three to five days to pay rent or move out when they are properly served a pay rent or quit notice. In California, for example, if rent is not paid, or if rent is habitually paid late, the landlord may serve the tenant with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. If the tenant fails to pay rent after being provided a three-day notice, the landlord may file an eviction with the courts.

Terminating the Tenancy

Each party, both landlord and tenant, is required to provide advance notice to terminate an agreement, even when there is no signed lease. If rent is regularly collected on a monthly basis, the advance notice required by either landlord or tenant to terminate the verbal agreement ranges from 20 to 30 days in most states. Tenants may terminate the tenancy without lengthy notice if the rules of implied warranty of habitability are broken and the rental unit is not fit for humans to live in.

Options for Raising Rent

When there is no signed rental agreement, the landlord has the right to raise rent or impose fees after a 30-day notice. Most states have similar definitions of tenancy in the absence of a signed agreement. California law provides that, in the absence of a written agreement, a tenancy is considered month-to-month. For rent increases of 10 percent or less, 30 days' notice must be provided before the increase. If the increase amounts to more than 10 percent of the total rent, the landlord must provide notice of 60 days. In Georgia, landlords are required to provide 60 days notice before raising rent.

Identifying Potential Problems

Lack of a written agreement can lead to a number of potential problems for both landlord and tenant, especially when special circumstances are involved, such as provisions to the original agreement pertaining to pets, additional roommates, utilities or other areas of concern. A clear, written lease agreement can help both parties to avoid confusion while confirming expectations and responsibilities. While tenancy agreements of less than one year do not require written lease agreements, it is best to put the details of a rental agreement in writing and to have the agreement signed by all parties involved.

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