how long can a tenant stay after the lease expires

It can be difficult to handle tenants on the best days, so when it comes to the worst times, you’re probably desperate and frantic for any advice. We completely understand, which is why we took the time to compile the most frequently heard complaints landlords have when it comes to tenants moving out of a property. In this article, you will find solutions to the 5 most common complaints. 

Table Of Contents For Common Move Out Issues Landlords Experience

So, what exactly happens when a tenant overstays their lease? Read on to learn more.

1. How Long Can A Tenant Stay After The Lease Expires?

This question becomes difficult to answer because the legal answer and the actual answer differ greatly when it comes to a tenant who refuses to leave the property. If a tenant stays past their lease, they become what is known as a holdover tenant. The laws regarding this are different in each state, so be sure to check your state specific landlord tenant laws before proceeding. 

Avoid Holdover Tenants

The easiest way to avoid holdover tenants is to check in with your tenants about 60 days before their lease is up and see whether they intend to renew or move out of your building. This is a good opportunity to avoid a vacancy by having them sign a renewal to their lease. It also gives you some time to attract new tenants if they plan to leave. 


Eviction Eviction is something that you want to avoid at all costs. In some states, eviction is painless, and in others, landlords face a ton of stress trying to get the former tenants to vacate.  

Make sure you have a thorough screening process in place before accepting new tenants, and recognize that everyone falls on hard times. Sometimes, working out a payment plan for a tenant who is between jobs or suddenly laid off is more beneficial to both you and the tenant than eviction because it prevents vacancy for you and keeps a roof over their head. However, … 

Legal Options

With holdover tenants, the laws generally allow for 1 of 2 different legal actions. You must think carefully about what you decide to choose because these laws are tricky and have a lot of grey areas.  

You can choose to treat them as a trespasser and officially evict them, or you and let the tenant stay and continue to collect rent. Making this call is largely dependent upon your relationship with these tenants and how much you trust them. If they’re extremely reliable and responsible and you’re on generally good terms, you may want to let them stay instead of fighting a battle. You may want to try to get them to sign a new lease or an extension to their old lease. If they’re unreliable and frequently late on payments, then don’t collect another penny from them even if they try to pay you. 

How To Evict Holdover Tenants

Although we just recommended against evictions whenever possible, in the case of holdover tenants, this is the easiest way to protect your rights. Once the lease ends, if you plan to kick them out instead of letting them stay, you must not collect rent from them, even if they try to pay you on time as usual. Once you do, you forfeit your right to evict them for trespassing. 

Month-To-Month Holdover Tenants

In most states, holdover tenants get treated like month-to-month contracts. This means that you serve them notice the same way they would need to serve you notice if they intend to move out. 

A standard 30-days advanced notice is common in nearly every state. The best way to avoid legal issues with holdover tenants is to include a clause in lease agreements that outlines the specific terms of holdover tenancies to prevent misunderstandings and protect yourself legally. 

Notifying them in writing that their lease is up in 30 days gives you the opportunity to explicitly state in writing that they will be required to sign a renewal or be completely moved out by that date. If all goes well, they will sign a new lease. Otherwise, you will once again need to choose whether to pursue eviction for trespassing or allow another month-to-month holdover tenant situation. 

If you let the tenant stay without signing a renewed lease, then most states will simply consider you to be on a month-to-month lease agreement with them. You won’t be able to evict them later without giving them notice, and the unfortunate grey area is that you may not be able to raise their rent or evict them at any point in the future if they continue to pay their rent on time each month. Although there are ways to get rid of them without eviction, you need to be sure that they are not against the holdover laws in your state. 

Periodic Tenancy

Periodic tenancy is a less common term but it still exists in some rental situations. If you haven’t created periodic tenancy leases, but you purchased an existing rental property, you may have inherited some periodic leases. 

These leases are made with no fixed term or end date. The contract simply keeps rolling over until either you or your tenant provides adequate notice for vacating the premises. These continue based on the period as determined by rent payment. Most of these are weekly or monthly. 

Holdover tenants that continue to pay rent will be given periodic tenancy if you accept payments from them. While this is good for you in prevention of vacancy, it also makes it more difficult for you because there is no longer a formal lease agreement between you both. The only way to ask for more rent is if your state laws allow you to provide them with the adequate notice that their rent is increasing to a specific amount and they can choose to resign a lease, continue the current agreement at the new rental pricing, or vacate by the end date of the notice. 

2. What To Do With Mail From Previous Tenants?

It can be really difficult to know what to do with mail from previous tenants with USPS. Opening it is illegal and throwing it away may constitute mail theft, but with no forwarding address or contact information, there is no real way to get the mail to them. 

Return To Sender

One way to send the mail back is by writing “Return to Sender” messages on the incoming mail. Hopefully, the sender will update their records and make an effort to contact the addressee. Writing variants like “No Longer at This Address” or “Addressee Has Moved” are also clear notices. Unfortunately, larger companies rarely respond to this because their records are tied to the Change of Address database, which your tenant clearly did not file. 

If this doesn’t always work, then cross out the barcode that USPS has placed on the envelope. That’s how they sort the mail, so crossing it out will prevent it from getting sent back to you. 

Note To USPS

An old school method of catching the attention of your individual USPS worker is by putting a sticky note on the mailbox or leaving a letter inside that says “[Former Resident’s Name] does not live at this address. Please do not send their mail here.” 

Most local post office branches also have a form that you can fill out and leave with them that will allow you to update the list of recipients at an address. This letter usually works and it lets the post office know not to deliver mail to any name not specifically listed on the form. 

If you want more help when it comes to how to stop mail for previous tenants, then check out our guide. You can also get advice from USPS FAQs regarding this situation. 

3. How To Collect Unpaid Rent After A Tenant Moves Out?

How To Collect Unpaid Rent After A Tenant Moves Out?

This is an extremely common complaint when it comes to unreliable tenants. It can be very difficult to collect unpaid rent from old tenants, especially when you don’t know their new contact address. We have prepared a comprehensive guide for this situation, but here’s a brief rundown of a few techniques. 

Keeping immaculate records is necessary for any landlord, and this situation is one of the reasons you will need to do so. Having a copy of a currently signed lease agreement and receipts for all rent payments made plus records of past due payments will help you immensely when it comes to leverage.


You should try to resolve this amicably without going to court if possible. Try to negotiate with the former tenants to get the payment, and if you make a payment plan or come to an agreement, be sure to get it notarized and in writing. Keep a record of your efforts to collect the rent yourself because you will be asked what efforts you made to collect the payment outside of the courts, and having them will help your case in court.

Small Claims Court

If you can’t collect the payments, you will need to go to a small claims court and get a judgment issued in your favor for the amount owed. If you’ve got a good lease, and if your local courts allow for it, you can also ask for additional money in damages, late fees, and legal fees on top of the owed rent. Check your state’s small claims laws to see what paperwork you will need to file and what you are allowed to ask for. 

You will also need to find your old tenant’s new address so you can serve them with notice of the court proceedings. You won’t necessarily need an attorney, but you must show up to your proceedings. Judgments will be made in your favor as long as you can show proof of payment due.


In small claims, you will often be offered the option to meet with an arbitrator to come to a binding agreement regarding the amount of money owed and the time they have to pay it. If you come to an amicable agreement, the judge will sign it and it will become legally binding. 

If not, you will need to argue your case before the judge. As long as you have proof of everything you are owed, the judge will issue a judgment in your favor. Once the judgment is issued, you will need to be able to enforce it.

Unfortunately, as of 2017, these judgments have lost a lot of the weight they once held in motivating the former tenant to pay. Under the National Consumer Assistance Plan, which worked towards accurate reporting, debts that arise from contracts, including judgments in small claims, will not be included in consumer credit reports any longer. This takes away one of the primary motivations a tenant has to pay off their judgment quickly. 

Collection Agency

In these cases, and in cases where you don’t want to go through the effort of court, it may be necessary to hire a collection agency to take over your payment issue. These agencies do report to the credit companies, so they provide that motivation to get the bill paid. There are 2 types of collection agency, and deciding which one to choose is a bit of a gamble. 

There are several agencies that charge a flat fee up front that allows you to keep the majority of the rent they manage to get from your former tenant. These are good options for tenants that were pretty reliable until they moved out, where it is likely that you will receive the payment in full upon contact. 

If you’re not sure whether or not you will be able to collect the money, there are also contingency services. These collection agencies won’t charge you up front, but they will take a percentage of the funds they manage to acquire that will be more than the up front fee of the other agencies.  

4. What To Do With Property Left Behind When A Tenant Moves Out?

It can be extremely tricky to know what to do when a former tenant has left property behind because most of the laws are written in favor of the former tenant. It is critical that you know your state’s individual laws for notifying tenants and disposing of their property before proceeding. 

Most of the time, your options are contingent upon how the tenant left your property. If they move at the end of a lease or after serving notice, a lot more flexibility is given to you for disposal of belongings. If they leave after receiving a termination notice, you also get some flexibility. 

If you’ve evicted a tenant, then you will need to be much more careful about how to handle their property. If they disappear, there are a lot more regulations regarding their property. We have prepared a comprehensive guide to the steps you need to take to begin removing this property, but here are some exceptions that can be swiftly handled.

Abandoned Property Law Exceptions

One major exception to the abandoned property law is when things are obviously garbage. This instance requires you to use your best judgment, and I suggest taking a lot of photos before disposing of this type of stuff. For example, empty wine bottles and old corks are regarded as garbage to most people, but there are a lot of DIY crafts that sell for a decent amount of money to artsy people, so if the collection is significant, they may be able to claim that you threw away part of their livelihood. 

Fixtures are another exception to the laws. If a tenant has permanently attached something to the wall, then it becomes a fixture. Common instances of this are shelving units. Without a specific clause in the lease, any fixture that gets installed by a tenant becomes part of the premises and, thus, belong to the landlord. 

Motor vehicles are the final exception. Tenants can leave junky, inoperable automobiles in your garage or parking lot when they leave. Most states provide a special exemption category for these things. 

If a tenant has left a vehicle behind, you can call the local police with the vehicle’s plate, make, and model and let them know where it is parked. The police can have it towed once they have determined that it has been abandoned. 

5. How To Overcome Property Vacancy?

After a tenant moves out, you are no longer able to collect rent from them. You want to maintain an adequate cash flow, so the quickest way to return to steady business is to fill the vacancy immediately. Here are some ways you can turn that vacancy into happy new tenants. 

Marketing Strategy

Once the tenant leaves, clean the unit and do some renovations. Then, take some gorgeous pictures that you can use for marketing after every unit with a similar floor plan becomes vacant. Professional photos look much more appealing to potential renters. 

You want to find a good tenant quickly, so word of mouth is a good start. Reach out to reliable tenants and friends and family to let them know you’ve got a vacancy coming up for rent. 

Publish your property on multiple sites. A lot of people use sites like Zillow and Facebook Marketplace to find their next rental property, so make sure you’re visible there. Advertise the features prospective tenants will want but be sure to disclose necessary information so you don’t waste time on tenants that won’t end up closing with you. 

Screen Prospective Tenants

Screening is a step that you need to take the time to do. A vacant property is better than an occupied one when the occupants are going to destroy or trash the property and potentially not pay rent. 

Stay Competitive

It can be really tempting to raise rates a little above market average, but if you aren’t offering the amenities to make it worth the increase, then you’re unlikely to attract any tenants. 

If your rates are too low, you may end up with undesirable ones while leaving money on the table. If your rates are just below market value, and you offer great amenities and move in rates, you will find great tenants all knocking down the door to move in with you. 

Maintain Good Relationships

Happy tenants become long-term tenants with income you can rely upon when the market takes a dip. They will be less likely to abandon you for a better deal in a nearby neighborhood if they’re extremely happy where they are. Maintaining a friendly relationship where you genuinely care about them is a great way to keep them from vacating your property and leaving you without renters.

The other advantage to a good relationship is that you’re more likely to get some good give and take when necessary. Doing small favors for them, being reliable in emergency maintenance situations, being courteous when it comes to early notification of temporary water shut downs and maintenance jobs, and genuinely listening to feedback will ultimately result in their being more patient with you when it comes to requests for pest control sweeps or small maintenance issues that can wait a little bit to get fixed.


Although losing a tenant can result in several major issues, there are also a lot of solutions. Familiarize yourself with the laws of your state when it comes to collections and property abandonment and you can handle them quickly. 

It also helps to maintain positive relationships in all of your business dealings. When you’re on good terms with the local law enforcement and USPS, they are more likely to respond to your requests quickly. When you’re on good terms with your tenants, they’re less likely to create problems when they move out, and may even recommend great new tenants who want to take over their lease!