What is Tenancy at will?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2018
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If you’ve ever leased an apartment, house or other property, at some point the lease can expire, usually after a period of a half-year to a year. Continued arrangement to rent the property may result in a tenancy at will agreement. This is an agreement between a landlord and renter or tenant to occupy a property, provided rent continues to be paid, for an unspecified period of time, so long as both landlord and renter agree about the renter retaining tenancy.

Some dwellings that are rented may be rented initially through a tenancy at will agreement, or what is called a month-to-month agreement. This means that either the landlord or the renter can choose to terminate the agreement with appropriate notice given. An exception exists that can violate even the strongest lease: if a property owner loses his property, as through foreclosure on his mortgage, any agreements made between renter and former owner are invalid. From a legal perspective, a tenant with a longstanding lease that is violated can sue the former owner for lease violation.

There are some things that people should consider if they enter into this type of agreement with a property owner. The owner can terminate a tenant's right to occupy the property at any time, usually with 30 days notice. If the owner decides to sell the property, especially just after someone has moved in, the tenant may encounter pretty stiff costs in having to move again quickly.


It’s a good idea for individuals who plan to occupy a particular property for a long period of time to ask for a lease agreement, especially for the first six months to a year. Alternately, those who don’t want to be tied down by such an agreement might want to ask the property owner’s intentions toward the continued rental of the property. It's best to find out if the tenancy at will agreement means the current tenant might have to move soon.

On the other hand, some tenants don’t want leases and would prefer a month-to-month agreement from the onset. Especially if they are renting property for a short duration, they want the option of ending their property occupation at any point without incurring charges or damages for violating a lease. People who move to new areas might choose to not sign up for lease agreements if they’re unfamiliar with the area and are concerned they may not like the area to which they've moved. Some people can successfully change a tenancy at will contract to a lease agreement if they find they’re happy with an area to which they’ve relocated. Others plan to be in the area for only a short time and want to avoid the potential shortfalls of breaking a lease, or may ask for a short-term lease.

Property owners must also decide what form of agreement serves them best. The advantages of at will agreements to the property owner are that it allows them to ask a tenant to leave at any time, given appropriate notice, which they might want to do if they decide to sell the property or if the tenant is behaving in a manner that is concerning to property owners. On the other hand, some landlords prefer lease agreements because it assures them that the renter will stay put (under most circumstances) for the length of the lease. Usually after that lease is up, most property agreements do revert to month-to-month rentals, unless the property owner remains concerned about retaining a tenant for a specific period of time.


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Discuss this Article

Post 8

I have had a lease for one year and have now been living as a tenant at will since January 2013. We are moving in May. We are curious if, when they are doing the assessment of the house, does the lease we originally signed still apply?

Post 7

If the landlord is foreclosed on and a new owner appears, and wants you out, doesn't the tenant protection under foreclosure act of 2009 give you the length of your lease?

Post 6

I have lived for more than eight years with a man who I thought I'd be with the rest of our lives. We lived in one of his rental units together for the whole eight-plus years. I helped him manage his nine-unit building and helped him in his office. I have not worked outside of our relationship in a job for 10 years.

He decided to end our relationship, moved out, then the next day served eviction papers to me, calling me a tenant at will. Is this legal?

Post 5

If the tenant has lodged a caveat on the property during the 'tenancy at will' what shall I do?

Post 4

for the weekly rental, the landlord has to give you a seven day notice to quit. Failing that, he can then give you a three day notice to pay or quit, which is an eviction notice. You have to pay rent through the end of tenancy. Getting the security deposit depends on how clean and undamaged you left the apartment.

In California, a landlord has 21 calendar days to return the deposit and/or a statement explaining deductions with invoices to prove the deduction and remaining deposit. This applies to CA, so check your state laws. Googling brings up quick and comprehensive


In CA changing the locks is expressly forbidden by law to evict a tenant. See Civil Code 1940 to 1954. good luck to all.

Post 3

I rent weekly at will. Had to report domestic violence to the police after weekly fights (five months now). Owner said to leave. How much time do I have? Do I get $600 security back? Do I still pay rent? I don't have money for another deposit or moving expenses. Help. Please advise.

Post 2

It is certainly not.

Post 1

Is it legal for the landlord to change the locks and order the tenant off the property without any notice, only allowing them to take what they can carry at that time?

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