Non-renewal of leases is an important topic for any Massachusetts landlord who rents to a tenant with a lease agreement. This topic is especially important given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and eviction moratorium.
What’s Required for a Non-Renewal of a Lease?
Landlords should always start with reviewing the lease itself. Many leases have requirements for both the landlord and tenant to inform each other whether or not they plan to renew the lease. This is particularly important for landlords with Section 8 tenants, whose lease agreements often have specific language about these scenarios.
Many leases are silent about non-renewals. In such a case, nothing is actually required for a landlord to not renew a lease. A landlord, in theory, can simply inform the tenant, the day after the end of the lease, that he or she does not wish to continue renting to the tenant.
This is rarely a good idea. A landlord, instead, should provide a tenant with as much notice as possible in advance, in writing, that it will not renew the lease.
Are Non-Renewals of Leases Allowed During the Eviction Moratorium?
In my opinion: yes. The eviction moratorium prohibits the sending of “any notice, including a notice to quit, requesting or demanding that a tenant of a residential dwelling unit vacate the premises.”
This language clearly covers more than just the notice to quit that is required for most evictions. However, I do not read this to prohibit a landlord from simply informing a tenant that he or she does not intend to renew a lease.
Landlords, however, need to be extremely careful when pursuing non-renewal of leases, and not include any language that can be construed as a request or demand for the tenant to vacate.
Landlords should consider including language to make this point clear. The statement below is taken from a state regulation on the eviction moratorium and can be used in notices of non-renewal:
THIS IS NOT A NOTICE TO QUIT. YOU ARE NOT BEING EVICTED, AND YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR HOME. An emergency law temporarily protects tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 emergency.
What Happens If A Tenant Will Not Leave After The End of The Lease?
The tenant becomes a tenant at sufferance. This is a tenant who was previously allowed to be in the rental apartment, but is no longer permitted by the landlord to do so. An eviction is required to get a tenant at sufferance out of the rental property.
However, the ongoing eviction moratorium prohibits all non-essential evictions. Unless the tenant at sufferance is damaging the apartment or threatening another person’s safety, an eviction is not allowed right now.
Can a Landlord Accept Rent from a Tenant Who Stays Past Their Lease?
Landlords need to be careful in these cases.
Suppose a landlord and tenant had a one-year lease, from June 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020, with rent due on the first of every month. If the landlord accepts rent from the tenant on June 1, 2020, the landlord and tenant have now entered into a new tenancy agreement: a tenancy at will (commonly known as a month-to-month tenancy). If the landlord wishes to evict, he or she would now need to send a thirty-day notice to quit before starting an eviction case.
How can a landlord avoid this? Before accepting rent after the lease, the landlord should tell the tenant, in writing, that the money is being accepted for use-and-occupancy only. This prevents the creation of a new tenancy.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.