Landlord-Tenant Issues – Who’s Right? Part IV

Landlords and tenants often see things from very different perspectives. Our property management service has dealt with all sorts of disagreements. Sometimes the landlords are right. Sometimes the tenants are right. Here are a few interesting cases.

What Happens to the Lease Once the Property Sells?

Imagine you own an investment property, a single-family home that you’ve leased to the same tenants for years. The family who lives there pays rent on time and takes reasonably good care of the place, but you are moving out of the area and don’t want to be responsible for the rental property, so you sell it to a new owner who wants to occupy the house. Can you (or they) kick out the tenant? The answer is no, not before the lease ends. A transfer of ownership does not nullify a lease agreement.

As the property owner you have a couple of options. You can write a letter terminating tenancy at the end of the current lease agreement, whether that’s a month from now or six months from now. You could also offer to pay the tenants to move. If there’s a mutual agreement to end the lease, it’s perfectly legal. If the tenant makes a material breach of the lease by skipping a rent payment or bringing in a pack of wild dogs when the lease says no pets, then you can begin eviction proceedings and force them to leave before the end of the lease.

How Many Three-Day Notices are Required?

If you’re a landlord and your tenant isn’t adhering to the lease agreement, the first step on the path toward eviction is the three-day notice. A three-day notice is a letter that specifically outlines the lease-agreement breach and encourages the tenant to fix the problem within, you guessed it, three days. If the tenant pays the rent or kicks out the extra people or does whatever it is you’ve requested in that time period, the sun comes out, the birds sing, and life rolls merrily along. If the tenant does not comply, it’s typically time to call your attorney who will advise you on how to proceed with the eviction process, which will take 30 to 60 days. It’s a bummer for everyone. You pay expensive legal fees and the tenant gets a significant smear on their credit rating, which will impact their ability to rent from anyone else.

The real bummer comes when you get partial compliance with your original three-day notice. They make a partial rent payment or kick out their adult children but then allow them to return; meanwhile, your spouse or secretary cashes the partial payment (not knowing the situation). This means you have to start all over again and write another three-day notice. By the way, if you don’t know the statutory details on how to write this type of notice, get legal advice. There are strict rules on how they should be drafted and how they should be delivered or “served.”

Consistency Wins the Day

If you’re a landlord and you own a duplex or a four-plex, be sure to treat everyone equally. People talk. Nosy neighbors pay attention. Stick to your lease agreement and you won’t go wrong.

Check back next week for “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.

If you have questions about getting into real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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