Tenancy At Sufferance: Explanation & Example

Article Summary:

Tenancy at sufferance is when a tenant remains in a property past the end of their lease agreement. Both the tenant and landlord have certain rights and responsibilities during a tenancy at sufferance, and the landlord can choose to evict the tenant at any time.

Whether you’re a landlord or a renter, it’s important to understand the various tenant rights laws in your state and how they affect you.

As a real estate investor or, you may run into a situation where a tenant you rent property to continues to live in the property after their lease ends. This situation is known as a tenancy at sufferance. Both the landlord and tenant have certain rights and responsibilities during this type of tenancy, and it’s important to understand what they are.

What is a tenancy at sufferance?

Tenancy at sufferance is when a tenant continues to live in a property after that tenant’s lease term has expired. This situation, known as a holdover tenancy, occurs before a landlord has started eviction proceedings.

So, while the landlord hasn’t taken legal action to ask the holdover tenant to leave, they also haven’t necessarily given them permission to stay.

Different types of tenancy

You may be surprised to learn that tenancy is not the same for every situation. Depending on your lease and agreements with your landlord, you may fall into one of four different categories.

Type of tenancyFeatures
Term of years tenancy• Tenant rents property with a fixed end date in mind
• Agreed upon by both landlord and tenant before move-in date through a written contract
• Tenant has the right to restrict landlord from property
Periodic tenancy• Tenant rental of property renews automatically until landlord receives notice
• Often considered a month-to-month rental
• Tenant has the right to restrict landlord from property
Tenancy at will• No set end date or expiration date
• Tenancy may continue as long as landlord and tenant desire
Tenancy at sufferance• Tenant continues to occupy rented space even after lease expires

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How tenancy at sufferance works

Most lease agreements have set dates when a tenant can move into a property, as well as when they are required to move out. During those lease dates, they have the legal right to occupy the property. In a normal situation, a tenant would either move out, allowing the landlord to rent the space to someone else, or they would sign a new lease agreement.

When the tenant doesn’t sign a new lease agreement but continues to live in the property, they begin a tenancy at sufferance. Unfortunately for most landlords, tenants in this situation have the same legal rights as normal tenants. Both the landlord and tenant still have some rights and responsibilities during this time, though they may vary slightly from state to state. In most cases, the landlord can evict the tenant with appropriate notice at any time.

In some states, tenants in a sufferance tenancy are required to continue making timely rent payments. However, in other states, it can only be considered a tenancy at sufferance if the holdover tenant has stopped paying rent.

Tenancy at sufferance example

Suppose that Jane owns a multi-family investment property that she has rented to Eric. The lease agreement between Jane and Eric states that Eric should vacate the property by the last date of July.

However, that date comes and goes, and Eric is still occupying the property. While he legally entered the property, he is now staying there illegally. Eric is now remaining in the property under a tenancy at sufferance, or holdover tenancy.

Luckily, Jane doesn’t have to allow Eric to remain on the property. If she has another tenant lined up or wants Eric out for any reason, she is free to file for eviction and force Eric to leave the property. On the other hand, Jane could also allow Eric to remain in the property as long as he continues to pay his rent and maintains the property in a way Jane would expect her tenant to.

Tenancy at sufferance vs. tenancy at will

In some cases, the landlord may give explicit permission for a tenant to remain in the property after the lease expires. This situation is known as a tenancy at will, and essentially represents a month-to-month lease (also called periodic tenancy). During this time, the tenant must continue making their rent payments, while the landlord must keep the property in good condition.

A tenancy at will is still a more informal agreement than a standard lease. This means either the landlord or the tenant can end the tenancy at any time, and there’s usually no end date in place. Tenancy at will can be a verbal agreement and doesn’t necessarily require that there be a written lease in place.

Pro Tip

Tenancy at sufferance can be beneficial for a tenant who doesn’t want to be stuck in a long-term lease. That being said, it’s also important to understand the risks since the landlord can end the arrangement at any time.

Landlord vs. tenant rights during a tenancy at sufferance

As we mentioned, both the landlord and the holdover tenant have rights and responsibilities during a tenancy at sufferance. However, they might differ depending on the state.

Landlord’s rights

First and foremost, a landlord in a sufferance tenancy has the right to evict the tenant if they choose to. In this case, they would send an eviction notice to the tenant, which is done through the local court. A landlord can do this regardless of whether they have a new tenant lined up to live in the home. In most cases, this notice must come in the form of certified mail, clearly stating when the tenant must vacate the property.

Of course, a landlord doesn’t have to evict the tenant. They might decide they’re fine with the arrangement, as long as the tenant is continuing to pay rent and care for the property.

What is the right of reentry?

The right to reentry is a landlord’s right to repossess a property if there’s been a breach of contract. In a tenancy at sufferance, the landlord has the right to reentry, since the tenant isn’t legally remaining in the property.

Tenant’s rights

Even though a tenant in a tenancy at sufferance doesn’t have the landlord’s permission to be on the property, they also have some rights. For example, they’re given the right of notice in many states, meaning the landlord has to provide a certain number of days’ written notice if they plan to evict. The tenant also has the right to live in a safe and clean environment. If the property doesn’t meet local health and safety regulations, the tenant has the right to file a complaint.

That being said, a tenant also has some responsibilities to the landlord in a tenancy at sufferance. In many states, the tenant is required to continue paying rent as long as they’re in the property, regardless of whether it’s with or without the landlord’s consent. Additionally, the tenant should practice basic cleaning and maintenance of the property, just as they would under any other lease arrangement.

How to end a tenancy at sufferance

As a landlord, it’s natural to want to end a tenancy at sufferance quickly, especially if you have another tenant in line to occupy the property legally.

The exact rules for ending a sufferance tenancy depend on the state. However, in most cases, either party can end the tenancy at any time. The only requirement is for either party to provide a 30-day notice to end the arrangement. That being said, some states don’t require one party (or either party) to provide valid notice to end the tenancy.

A tenancy at sufferance can also be converted into a tenancy at will if both parties agree. In that case, the landlord would give the tenant permission to remain on the property. The tenant must continue to pay rent each month, and the landlord must maintain the condition of the property. There doesn’t have to be an explicit end date like there might be with a traditional lease agreement.

What is a tenancy at sufferance in California?

In a tenancy at sufferance in California, the tenant has no right to notice. Because they aren’t legally on the property, the landlord can choose to enter the property or evict the tenant at any time. This isn’t the case in all states.

Key Takeaways

  • Tenancy at sufferance occurs when a tenant continues to occupy a property even after the lease expires.
  • If the landlord demands that the tenant leave the property, he or she may decide to start the eviction process and seek legal aid.
  • However, a landlord may also be willing to let the tenant stay on a month-to-month basis as long as the tenant continues to pay rent.
  • Depending on the state, the landlord and tenant may have different rights, such as the right of reentry or the right to notice.
View Article Sources
  1. Landlord/Tenant Law — Texas State Law Library
  2. Section 59.04.050 Tenancy by sufferance—Termination. — Washington State Legislature
  3. Landlord-Tenant Law — Cornell Law School
  4. What is a Co-op Apartment? — SuperMoney
  5. Lien vs. Encumbrance: Differences And Examples — SuperMoney
  6. How to Get Out of Your Apartment Lease in 5 Steps — SuperMoney
  7. What is a Multifamily Home? Everything You Need To Know — SuperMoney
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  9. Section 8 Housing – Ultimate Guide for Landlords and Tenants — SuperMoney