Updated June 2023
Do you have a tenant without a lease living in your rental property and want them to leave or need to pursue eviction?
Because this can happen due to a variety of reasons,from expired leases to inherited tenants, it can be difficult for you as the landlord to know exactly how to proceed.
Under the law, someone who is living in your rental property without a lease is still considered a tenant, so you ‘ll need to follow the same general guidelines you would take to evict any tenant.
However, it’s crucial to avoid common traps that may result in paying fines or, worse, relinquishing partial control of your property.
Today, we’ll take you step-by-step through the legal status of tenants without a lease and how you can evict this type of tenant. We’ll also answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the process and share how to deal with problematic tenants without leases as quickly as possible.
A Table Of Contents For Removing A Tenant Without A Lease
Doing a no-lease eviction has a lot of similarities to other evictions, but there are aspects that you should pay extra close attention to. Ensure that you don’t slip up along the way by following this guide:
- Can You Evict A Tenant Without A Lease?
- Lawful Reasons For Eviction
- Unlawful Reasons For Eviction
- How Do I Evict A Tenant Without A Rental Agreement?
- Why Might You Have A Tenant Without A Lease?
- Fact Check: What Is A Notice To Quit?
- A Bonus Option: Cash For Keys
- FAQs: How To Evict Someone Who Is Not On The Lease
- Can You Evict Someone Without A Lease In My State?
- Is Evicting A Tenant Without A Lease Expensive?
- How Much Time Does A Landlord Have To Give A Tenant To Move Out?
- What Do You Do When A Tenant Without A Lease Refuses To Leave?
- Can Landlords Keep Personal Property That Was Left Behind After An Eviction?
- How Do You Write An Eviction Notice Without A Lease?
- Can You Be Evicted Without A Lease?
- Act Fast When Evicting A Tenant Without A Lease
The short answer is yes.
When there is no written lease in place, in most cases the law still considers you as the landlord and your “tenant” to have an oral contract. For example, this is the case in New York City.
This will usually default in the eyes of the law to a month-to-month lease, meaning that either you as the landlord or the tenant can end the lease without a specified reason by providing 30 days notice.
In this situation, the law recognizes that the property is owned by you and that the tenant is occupying the property under agreed conditions, even though those conditions have not been put in writing.
You still have rights in terms of how the property is being used and occupied, and you also still have the responsibility to maintain the property in a safe and habitable condition. You must also respect the rights of your tenant, for example by providing ample notice prior to any property inspection.
To end a lease with someone with whom you do not have a signed lease agreement, you should follow the same legal steps as you would with a tenant on a month-to-month lease. This includes providing them with official written notice of your request for them to vacate the property. Follow our guide to how to compose a notice to vacate letter.
If the tenant refuses to comply with this request, you can then proceed to an eviction hearing in your local court jurisdiction.
In theory, if you give someone without a lease 30 days notice to vacate, you are not evicting them before the end of their tenancy agreement, so you do not need to provide a reason for the eviction. But if that person has been living in the property long term and considers themselves a long-term tenant they may push back, and the law can sometimes be on their side.
Therefore, when possible, you should provide a valid reason for asking the tenant to leave the property, in the same way as you would if you were breaking the lease early. This could be because they are not fulfilling their obligations as a tenant. It could be because you want to move into the property yourself or renovate it, but it can’t be based on personal factors such as animosity toward the tenant.
The following are considered legal reasons for ending a tenancy early:
- Illicit drug use
- Property damage
- Breaking any contract terms or agreements
- Nonpayment of rent
- Skipping required utility payments
- Unauthorized pets
- Health & safety violations
- Owner removing property from the rental market
- Owner moving into the property
If you give one of these as your reason to evict, you may also be able to ask the tenant to leave within less than 30 days. The exact period of time depends on the situation and where you live, so look at local laws.
Just as there are some legal reasons for eviction, there are also several reasons that you cannot use to justify asking a tenant to leave your property. Most of these reasons have to do with violating the Fair Housing Act and asking the tenant to leave over a protected class issue.
If your reason for eviction is on this list, it is essential that you do not move forward with an eviction. Instead, send out a standard notice to end the contract (oral or written) at the end of the applicable tenancy period. You cannot terminate early for these reasons:
- Discrimination (racial, religious, familial, disability, or otherwise)
- Retaliation for complaints made or suits brought by tenants
- Withholding rent until a health or safety issue is resolved
If you try to proceed with eviction based on any of these reasons, or there is evidence that any of these reasons forms part of your decision to evict, then you are at great risk of falling afoul of the law when you proceed to court.
Once you’ve identified an appropriate reason for removing a tenant, how can you actually proceed to evict a tenant without a lease? We’ll take you through the process, step by step.
You must send out a written notice asking the tenant to leave the property before you can consider filing for eviction. This is known as a notice to quit, and it should detail when and why the tenant needs to leave the property. The amount of time they have to leave will vary depending on the state and situation.
If the tenant does not leave the property by the specified date, it’s time to file for an eviction hearing. You can do this at your local courthouse. Some jurisdictions allow you to file and submit evidence online.
Once the court reviews your filing, they will schedule a hearing date and send notice to both you and the tenant. At the hearing, you’ll need to explain the no-lease situation, when you sent notice, and why the tenant should leave the rental property. The tenant will have a chance to explain why they deserve to stay.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide what happens next. If either party does not show up, the case is typically decided in favor of the party that does appear. If the judge agrees with your evidence, you’ll receive a judgment that can be used to ensure an eviction occurs.
Once you’ve won your case, that does not mean you can simply show up at your property and force the tenant to vacate. Instead, take your judgment to your local sheriff. They will then execute the eviction and you can regain control of your property.
One of the most common ways to end up with a tenant you did not choose or make a contract with directly is when you take over an occupied property.
Whether you buy a property that is already being rented or you inherit a rental property, you now have a tenant you did not contract with.
Ideally, you would have received a copy of the existing lease agreement when buying the property. You should negotiate to have this document, and you can find out during the buying process if this is a no-lease situation. If so, you may still end up with a tenant who does not have a written lease agreement.
In most cases, you can give these tenants a notice to quit. The period of this type of eviction is usually much longer than other eviction cases because the tenant did have a valid contract with the previous owner.
If you did not negotiate moving terms with the tenant before acquiring the property, you would need to follow these steps:
- Give the tenants an official notice to quit with the proper waiting period.
- If the tenant does not want to move, you would need to file for eviction with the court.
- Prepare documents explaining that you did not plan to keep the tenant when acquiring the property or why it’s necessary for the tenant to leave before their original contracted period ends.
- If the court sides with you, take the court order to the local authorities to have the eviction carried out.
- Never try to remove a tenant yourself.
Often, tenants will be permitted to stay at the property until their original oral agreement runs out. While this can be frustrating for you as the new property owner, it is fair to the tenant. For that reason, it’s key to research and review the existing arrangement before you purchase a property, so that you do not end up in a no-lease situation.
Another type of tenant without a lease who you might be trying to evict is a squatter. A squatter may be someone you previously rented your property to and they then stayed beyond the end of their rental contract. Or, they may be someone who moved onto your property without permission.
Evicting squatters is very similar to evicting renters. Even though it might be tempting to force the people off of your property, doing so could put you at risk of legal trouble.
To evict a squatter, you still need to give them notice that you will be filing a suit for eviction. Every state and area has different rules for how long before you file a suit you must give a notice to quit or a notice of eviction, so you’ll want to check these regulations.
Once you have given enough warning, you can file a suit for eviction. If the court sides with you that the squatter should be removed, you can use the court order to have them removed from your property by the authorities.
Many new landlords are surprised that the process used to handle squatters differs so little from how tenants are handled.
Ultimately, people have rights that cannot be violated even if they are technically trespassing. It will be up to the court and authorities to assign any such charges, and you as the landlord should not try to enforce anything without that type of support.
What about tenants that you allowed to live in your property beyond the end of their lease, or without having their original lease, but you would now like to evict?
This type of tenant is called a tenant-at-will. In tenancy-at-will situations, a verbal or written agreement has been made between you and a tenant. This sets up a month-to-month tenancy that can be terminated by either the landlord or the tenant with a 30-day notice.
Doing an eviction without a lease requires that you give the appropriate notice for your state. While we’re using 30 days as the standard since this is the case in many states, some states or localities might default to a different notice period for tenancy-at-will situations. Be sure to double check your local requirements.
To evict this type of tenant, you need to give them a minimum of 30 days’ notice to leave the property. Because there is no long-term lease agreement, this is the extent of notice that you need to give to a tenant-at-will.
One exception is during nonpayment of rent situations. In this case, many states allow you to give a 14-day notice to quit to any tenant-at-will who is not paying the rent as agreed. Since they are not meeting their part of the agreement, the process is faster.
Another interesting fact about tenant-at-will situations is that you do not need to give any reason in the notice to quit, other than your desire for the tenancy to end. Because there is no lease or contract involved, all the tenant needs to receive is notice that they will have to move out.
Another question that some landlords have is how to evict someone from your own home without a lease. For example, parents that allow their adult child to live with them may, unfortunately, need to ask their adult child to leave, but the child might feel they have a right to live there.
Evicting someone in this situation can feel totally different from other ss, but the particulars are very similar. The adult child or other individual can be considered a tenant or occupant, and the owners are considered to be the landlords. Then, the owners will need to send out a notice to quit and follow the proper eviction proceedings if the individual does not comply.
Evicting someone you live with can be complicated, but the property owner has rights that allow you to do this. Keep that in mind and move forward to regain control of your living situation.
All evictions require that you first serve the tenant with a notice to quit. You can only move on to a formal eviction once that method of resolving the situation has failed.
What exactly is a notice to quit, and how do you put one together?
A notice to quit is an official way of letting someone know by what date they must leave a property. This type of notice is used both in cases where no lease applies and in situations where there is a lease. The exact terminology may differ, but the intent of the notice is the same.
If a tenant overstays their lease period, the lease end is usually enough to be considered a notice to quit, but it may be beneficial to give a formal notice to quit as well.
In the notice, the following information should be included:
- The property address and any lease period information
- The tenant name and contact information
- The landlord name and contact information
- Why the notice to quit is being sent (lease expiration, agreement violation, nonpayment of rent, etc.)
- By when the tenant must leave
- Who the tenant can contact with any questions
Remember that your notice to quit is only valid in court cases if the paperwork can be confirmed as received by the tenant. If mailed, it’s best to send these papers by certified mail to ensure you have proof that you gave the tenant proper notice. Sending the notice by certified mail ensures that you have this proof.
One thing that should be clear from this guide is that when you are dealing with a tenant reluctant to leave, the process of obtaining an eviction can be long, grueling, and expensive. Not every landlord will want to deal with this process, and some may even be willing to lose money to avoid eviction procedures.
An alternative approach to the eviction court system that some landlords use is to offer cash for keys to the tenants in residence.
In the cash for keys method, a landlord pays a flat fee to the tenant in exchange for return of their keys. Often, tenants who do not want to leave the property can be enticed to make a faster exit with this method. While you cannot force them to accept this option, it’s often less expensive than going through the entire eviction process, so it is worth asking.
Eviction without a lease is a situation that landlords never want to end up in. While cash for keys can speed up the process, the best way to avoid eviction is to make sure you always have a lease in place and screen all tenants before signing an agreement with them.
High-quality tenant screening, such as the services provided here at RentPrep, is a fantastic way to find the right tenants for your property. By ensuring that their background check, income verification, and other information gathered on the rental application fits your requirements, you can reduce your risk of ending up in a difficult eviction situation.
Try RentPrep’s tenant screening today!
These are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the process of evicting a tenant without a lease.
Every state has procedures for how to do a no-lease eviction. The exact policies can vary from state to state, but the general process usually looks very similar. Even though you do not have a written lease, your state law will consider that you have an oral agreement with the tenant.
From there, you can proceed with your notice to leave the property and subsequent eviction filing if the occupant is not willing to comply with your terms.
It’s scary to consider that someone is living in your property without your permission, but remember that you have options. Consult a local real estate lawyer or experienced paralegal for assistance on the laws that apply to your properties if you need additional support.
It’s impossible to say with certainty how much handling a no-lease eviction will cost. Depending on how long it takes the tenant to comply, if you have to go to court, and whether or not they damage the property in the process, the amount can vary widely.
In some cases, a no-lease occupant moving out will cost no more than any other turnover. The tenant will leave the property, and you will need to do usual cleanup and repairs. In other cases, the tenant will be unwilling to leave and lead you to a months-long court issue until you can finally get things resolved.
Even if the court decides in your favor, it is possible that you will not be able to get any money back from the tenant to cover damages or unpaid rent. Tracking down money owed from eviction cases can be very difficult, and hiring a collections agency is also a difficult road.
As a landlord, it’s best to try to avoid no-lease situations as much as possible. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but they can be an unpredictable money pit, so experienced landlords will know to avoid them.
How long a landlord must give a tenant to vacate a property depends on local laws. However, in most cases, a landlord must give a tenant who has been living in a property for less than one year 30 days to vacate. Tenants who have been living in a property for more than one year will need to be given 60 days to vacate.
Shorter notice to quit periods can only be given if the tenant is breaking the conditions of the lease, for example by not paying rent or breaking the law on the property. In these cases, check your local laws.
When a tenant without a lease refuses to comply with your written notice to quit the property, you should move to file for an eviction hearing as soon as possible. The faster you have an eviction hearing on file, the faster your case will be resolved and you can regain control of your property.
Do not hesitate to file for eviction when they do not comply. Even if it feels like a daunting affair, you’ll be happier and more financially sound in the long run after making this decision.
No. Even if an evicted tenant leaves personal property behind, these items cannot be disposed of until they have been stored for an appropriate period of time. Any personal property that is moved to a secure location must be listed, and this list needs to be forwarded to the former tenant so they can come collect it.
The length of time and how much the landlord can charge for storing the items varies from state to state, but you can generally recoup this cost. While this can be frustrating for landlords, it’s important to follow proper protocol when a tenant or occupant leaves belongings behind.
You will compose a notice to quit or an eviction notice for a tenant without a lease in the same way that you would for a tenant with a lease.
But in places where you would refer to the conditions of the lease, you should refer to the conditions of the unwritten contract between you, whether this is a verbal agreement, information in a lease that has now expired, or agreement based on precedent (what you and the tenant have been doing for an extended period of time).
In official eviction documentation, you will need to explain how the no-lease situation arose between yourself and the tenant and the basis for your unwritten understanding.
A tenant can be evicted even if they do not have a written lease. While it is always preferable to have a formal lease in place, if the tenant is living in another person’s house, they are considered the owner’s tenant and can be evicted on the same basis as a tenant on a month-on-month lease.
The landlord must provide the tenant with a notice to quit giving a reasonable amount of time to vacate the property, explaining why they must vacate, and letting the tenant know if there is anything they can do to resolve the situation if they wish to stay. But remember that in a no-lease situation, the tenant does not have to be at fault for the landlord to wish to terminate the lease.
If the tenant does not leave the property within the time period specified in the notice to quit, the landlord can then proceed with eviction procedures. If the tenant believes that the landlord is trying to evict them unfairly, for example on the basis of discrimination, the tenant can make their case at the eviction court hearing.
Removing a tenant without a lease can seem like an impossible affair if you don’t know what you’re dealing with.
If you believe you have a relatively cooperative tenant who will agree to leave, you should serve them with a standard notice to quit as you would with a tenant on a month-to month contract.
If you believe they will not want to vacate the property, your best approach is to follow the rules for breaking a lease early and provide solid reasons for wanting to end the lease.
Follow the steps below to ensure you’re acting within the law and your own best interests:
- Determine if your reason for wanting to evict a tenant without a lease is legal or not.
- Figure out what type of tenancy you have (overstayed lease, squatting, tenancy-at-will).
- Consider if you want to try the cash-for-keys method.
- Send out a notice to quit, if relevant.
- Escalate to a court eviction if necessary.
While eviction is a scary word, it doesn’t have to be a scary process. With the right tools and information, you can regain control of your property in no time. Acting quickly throughout the process is key, but you should act with accurate knowledge to avoid mistakes.