Can a Landlord Break a Lease to Sell the Property?

Can a landlord break a lease to sell the property you’re renting? It depends on the details of your lease agreement and local landlord-tenant laws where you live.
Written by Melanie Krieps Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
A landlord can break a lease to sell a property depending on the details of your lease agreement and local landlord-tenant laws where you live.
It’s been a few months and you’re starting to settle into your new rental—when all of a sudden, you learn your landlord wants to take advantage of the current seller’s market where you live and sell their rental property. So, they’ve decided they’re going to break your lease early.
Can your landlord even do that? To help you get a better understanding of when a landlord can legally break a lease to sell property—if they can at all—
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Can a landlord break a lease to sell property?

The typical lease agreement between a landlord and tenant is for a fixed period—usually 12 months.
In theory, a fixed lease period like this gives both the tenant and the landlord some security—the tenant can feel secure knowing they’ll have a place to call home for at least the next year, and the landlord has the financial security of knowing they can expect regular rent payments during that time.

When can a landlord break a lease to sell?

If your landlord has informed you they’ll be selling the property and breaking your lease early to do so—or even if you simply have a suspicion that they might—the first thing you’ll want to do is check your lease agreement.
If your lease agreement has an early termination clause, it may allow your landlord to break a lease to sell the property—as long as they provide you, the tenant, with proper notice (often 30 to 60 days). 
Additionally, a landlord still can’t usually terminate the lease for just any reason—an early termination clause will typically list specific circumstances in which you or your landlord could end the lease early, so be sure to read yours closely.
It’s also a good idea to verify whether the early termination terms detailed in your lease agreement are actually enforceable based on landlord-tenant laws where you live.

Breaking a lease with an eviction

Regardless of whether your landlord has the underlying motive of wanting to sell the property, certain situations will allow them to legally evict you and break your lease early. 
So, if you do suspect your landlord might be tempted to sell your rental property and may try to vacate units, you don’t want to give them cause for an eviction.
Here are some reasons a landlord could legally break a lease by way of eviction:
  • Missed rent payments
  • Causing damage to the rental property
  • Violating your lease agreement
  • Dangerous illegal activity at the property
  • Posing threats to public health or safety
That said, since the legal eviction process has specific steps, like providing a required amount of notice and being present for court appearances, evicting tenants to sell a property usually takes more time and resources than the landlord can sacrifice. Plus, there’s the risk of property damage left behind by angry tenants, which doesn’t necessarily make a building easier to sell.
However, it’s still possible a landlord could attempt to use eviction as a workaround if you don’t have an early termination clause in your lease agreement and local landlord-tenant laws wouldn’t otherwise allow them to break your lease early.

Cash for keys agreements

Another possible option is that if your lease agreement doesn’t have an early termination clause, your landlord might be willing to offer you payment in exchange for moving out early. But make sure this is taken care of with a legally sound written agreement—sometimes referred to as a “cash for keys agreement”—signed by both you and your landlord if this is something you’re considering.
Pro Tip Landlord-tenant laws can be complicated and subject to change over time, so don’t hesitate to seek out legal counsel for your particular situation if you need it.
MORE: California tenant rights

When can a landlord not break a lease?

If there’s no early termination clause in your lease agreement that allows for one of you to break the lease early without proper notice, likely, your landlord can’t legally ask you to leave your rental before your lease is up.
When your fixed lease period is over, it’s possible that your lease could change from a fixed period to a month-to-month lease, depending on local laws and what kind of agreement you and your landlord have in place. As a month-to-month or week-to-week tenant, a landlord often doesn’t need to provide as much notice to terminate a lease, but they can’t do so earlier than landlord-tenant laws allow.
It’s also possible that a property sale might not mean that you have to relocate. The new owner of the property may have purchased it with the intent of continuing to rent it out. When that’s the case, allowing reliable tenants to continue their leases is a lot easier than finding new tenants for every single rental unit.
Key Takeaway If there’s no clause in your contract, a landlord may not be able to break a lease early. However, once your lease is up, it could go to a month-to-month contract—in which case they can end the agreement with a 30-day notice. 

What to do when a landlord breaks your lease

Learning that your landlord is trying to break your lease early to sell a rental property can be jarring, to say the least. Here’s how to respond if your landlord has tried to break your lease early:
  • Review your local landlord-tenant laws to understand what is and isn’t allowable when it comes to your landlord breaking your lease early.
  • Review your lease agreement to see whether it contains an early termination clause and what those conditions are. If your landlord hasn’t given you the agreed-upon amount of notice, or if they aren’t terminating the lease early for a specific circumstance allowed by your lease agreement, they probably can’t break your lease early.
  • Don’t give your landlord any cause to evict you: If you’re hoping to stay right where you are for the duration of your lease, take care to stay in good standing with your rental payments and your lease agreement so your landlord doesn’t have any extra cause to break your lease early.
  • Try to talk with your landlord: Even if your landlord has made it clear they’ll be selling your rental, they might be willing to be flexible with you, depending on the circumstances. That could look like giving you more time to move out or offering you an extra financial incentive for moving out early voluntarily. Be sure to get whatever agreement you come to in writing.

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Whether a landlord can break a lease to sell a rental property will largely depend on local landlord-tenant laws where you live and what your lease agreement says. A landlord may be able to break the lease early if your lease agreement has an early termination clause, but even then, they usually have to have a specific reason listed in that clause to do so.
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