Landlord and Tenant: Month-to-month agreements

Month-to-month agreements offer little long-term securtiy for the tenant.

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There are two types of rental arrangements that a landlord and tenant can enter into: periodic tenancies and fixed-term agreements. A fixed-term agreement is popularly known as a lease. The more common name for a periodic tenancy is a month-to-month agreement.

Month-to-month agreements

The first thing to understand about a periodic tenancy is that the period can be any length of time; a month is only the most common (and, therefore, is used most often in this book). Landlords and tenants can agree to any length of time; it all depends upon how often rent is due. If rent is due once a month, then it is a month-to-month agreement. If it is due every week, then it is a weekly agreement. The period corresponds to the frequency of rent payments.

The length of time of the period is critical. The second, and most important, thing to know about periodic tenancies is that the agreement can change on very short notice; again, depending upon how often rent is due.

Claire entered into a month-to-month agreement with her landlord, Howard. Rent was set at $750 per month. After living in the unit for only two months, Howard gave Claire thirty days’ notice of a rent increase. The new amount of rent was to be $1,500 a month. Claire’s only two choices were either to pay the grossly inflated increase or to move.

Almost any change is permissible with a periodic tenancy, as long as proper notice has been given. Rent can be raised. The agreement can be terminated. A tenant can be told that a pet will no longer be welcome. Again, the amount of notice required to change the terms of the deal corresponds directly to how often rent is due. If rent is due every thirty days, then the amount of time required to change the terms of the agreement is also thirty days. If rent is due weekly, then the agreement could be terminated on seven days’ notice. So, the important thing to know about month-to-month agreements is that thirty days is all that is required to change the agreement.

The agreement, while month-to-month, can actually last any length of time—a month or five years. It depends on what the parties want. As long as a tenant pays rent on time and cares for the unit, and as long as a landlord lives up to his duties, there is nothing stopping them from keeping the agreement going as long as they want to.

Month-to-month agreements can be made either verbally or in writing; there is no legal requirement that the arrangement has to be in writing, although it is a very good idea (see below). Changes in the terms of the agreement also do not have to be in writing. A landlord can give a tenant thirty days’ notice to vacate over the phone.

The Important Legal Concept to Remember: Rental agreements vary greatly. Landlords should usually try to get their tenants to enter into written rental agreements, and tenants should almost always try to get a lease.

Excerpted with permission from: Ask a Lawyer: Landlord and Tenant. Copyright 2000 Steven D. Strauss. All rights reserved.

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