Not all landlords and tenants have written lease agreements. In situations where a tenant has an oral lease with her landlord, problems that arise can be difficult to sort out, even if a judge gets involved. Nonetheless, oral contracts are generally considered binding under the law, and can impose obligations on both landlord and tenant.
Obligations and Time Limits
In some states, such as Missouri, an oral lease can only be valid for up to one year. After a year, there can be no legal lease unless it is made in writing. In Maryland, a tenant must be offered a written lease by a landlord. The Maryland tenant can waive her right to a written lease, but it must first be offered to the tenant. Many states have even stricter laws for owners of mobile home parks, who must offer all potential tenants a written lease, even if the state's landlord-tenant law does not require owners of "standard" properties to do so.
Eviction and Notice Rights
Tenants who have an oral lease have the same right to due process in an eviction as does a tenant with a written lease. Just because a lease does not exist does not mean that a landlord can force a tenant to move at any time, or attempt a "constructive eviction" by locking a tenant out or shutting off utilities. Many states require landlords to give tenants who have month-to-month or week-to-week leases a certain amount of warning before terminating a lease agreement. If a tenant refuses to move after being asked to by a landlord, the landlord must prove in court that she has the right to evict the tenant. At the same time, a tenant with an oral lease is typically required under state law to comply with standard move-out procedures. If a tenant and landlord have an oral month-to-month rental agreement, the tenant is required in most states to give 30 days notice before moving out. If the tenant fails to do this, the landlord can sue the tenant for unpaid rent and damages.
Tenants with written or oral leases have specific rights in case their building is lost to foreclosure. In most cases, federal law gives a tenant with a lease the right to remain in her home until her lease runs out. If a tenant has a month-to-month lease, she has at least 90 days to remain in her home before the new building owner can force her to move.