As a landlord, you may reach a point where you want a tenant to vacate, whether it’s because you intend to sell your property or you’re unhappy with the tenant in question. In many cases, you’ll need a lease termination letter to inform your tenant of your intent.
What Is a Lease Termination Letter?
A lease termination letter is a written notice informing a tenant that you wish to end the lease and have the tenant move out. It’s easy to confuse a lease termination letter with an eviction notice, but they’re very different things. Commonly, an eviction notice will only come into play once a tenant ignores a lease termination letter and refuses to vacate their rental.
[READ: What to Do if You Get Evicted.]
Do You Need a Lease Termination Letter?
It depends. According to Adam Sherwin, an attorney at The Sherwin Law Firm in Charlestown, Massachusetts, if you have a long-term lease in place, there’s no requirement to provide a lease termination letter unless the lease says otherwise. However, Sherwin warns that landlord-tenant laws vary from state to state, and even from county to county within the same state. So it’s always a good idea to give a tenant notice about a lease termination, even if you think it’s not required.
Meanwhile, a month-to-month lease generally will require a lease termination letter that offers a tenant a full rental period of notice. Usually, that’s 30 days. Finally, a lease termination letter is absolutely necessarily in situations where a tenant has violated a lease and you want that tenant to vacate your property.
What Should Your Lease Termination Letter Say?
If you’re simply trying to inform a tenant that their lease (whether a long-term lease or month-to-month lease) will not be renewed, you’ll need to let your tenant know the date by which they’re expected to vacate. You’re not required to explain why you no longer want to rent to that tenant.
Your lease termination letter will look different, however, if you’re ending a lease before it’s run its course. In that situation, you’ll generally need documentation of a tenant violating their lease before putting your letter together. Once you have that documentation (for example, pictures of a tenant smoking on the premises when that’s prohibited), your termination letter will need to reference the term of your original lease that’s been violated and include the dates on which that violation occurred.
From there, you’ll need to give your tenant reasonable notice to vacate the premises and a date by which you want them out. Sherwin says you may be able to get away with a seven-day notice period in that situation, but again, the rules can vary by state and county.
To be clear, though, it’s generally a good idea to try to resolve a tenant issue before issuing a lease termination letter. Sherwin says that if you see a tenant violating a lease term, such as having a pet in their home when that’s prohibited, it’s better to try to work something out before attempting to terminate a lease. However, if your tenant refuses to cooperate, then a lease termination letter is the next step.
Should You Hire an Attorney to Write Your Lease Termination Letter?
If you’re new to writing a lease termination letter, you may want to. “It’s not complicated,” Sherwin says with regard to writing one of these letters, “but it’s very strict.” If there’s an error in your lease termination letter, you may have to go through the process of having to write a new one. That could extend the time your tenant is able to stay in your rental when you want them out.
Sherwin says that while you don’t have to hire an attorney for a lease termination letter, you may want to invest in an official form you can use repeatedly as needed. Attorneys, Sherwin says, have airtight templates. On the other hand, he says, “I’ve seen forms come off the internet that are wrong.”
What Happens When a Tenant Ignores a Lease Termination Letter?
A tenant who doesn’t want to end their lease may choose to ignore their termination letter. From there, you may have no choice but to move forward with an eviction.
But first, you’ll need to make sure your lease termination letter was received. “The burden is on the landlord to make sure the tenant receives a notice,” says Sherwin, so while you can mail a lease termination letter, a better bet may be to either hand-deliver it yourself, or have it served by a sheriff or constable.
If you have proof of receipt and your tenant doesn’t vacate their home, you have the right to start the eviction process. But before you do, talking to your tenant could be a better bet. It may be that your tenant wants or needs more time to vacate. If you’re able to come to an agreement, it could spare both of you the hassle of going through the eviction process.
“No one wins in an eviction case,” says Sherwin. Not only can the process be costly and time-consuming for a landlord, but evictions become a matter of public record, which could serve as a black mark for a tenant and make it harder for them to rent a home in the future. All told, Sherwin says, it’s in landlords’ best interest to give their tenants as much notice as possible when terminating leases to avoid the eviction process altogether.
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