What is tenancy at will?

When there’s no lease stating a specific end date for tenancy, a renter is in a tenancy at will, or month-to-month arrangement.

Derek Silva


Derek Silva

Derek Silva

Senior Editor & Personal Finance Expert

Derek is a former senior editor and personal finance expert at Policygenius, where he specialized in financial data, taxes, estate planning, and investing. Previously, he was a staff writer at SmartAsset.

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Key Takeaways

  • Landlords and tenants can terminate tenancy at any time, as long as they give proper notice, usually 30 days

  • There may still be a rental agreement, it just won’t state an end date for tenancy

A tenancy at will is an agreement where a tenant has not signed a lease or contract that specifies an end date for their tenancy. Instead, the tenant or landlord can terminate the agreement at any time.

There is commonly a verbal agreement between the renter and landlord instead of a written contract. However, there may still be a written tenancy agreement to state the price of rent or other terms that must be met. The contract simply won’t specify a rental period for the tenant.

When there isn’t an agreement stating how much notice is required before the tenant can or must (in the case of eviction) leave the apartment, there are usually local laws that dictate how many days’ notice tenants and landlords must provide. The most common requirement is 30 days.

A tenancy at will may also be called an estate at will or a month-to-month rental agreement.

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Leaving a tenancy at will

Rules vary on how to terminate a tenancy at will. Before all else, a tenant must follow any contract they have with their landlord. When there is no contract, local landlord-tenant laws still apply. Many locations require both landlords and tenants to provide 30 days’ notice before ending tenancy.

Normally a tenant must provide written notice of termination. This notice doesn’t have to be long or complex. It basically just needs to state that it’s an official notice that the tenant is ending their tenancy and their final date in the rental. The letter should be dated to prove that proper notice has been given. It isn’t necessary to give a reason for leaving.

Some landlord-tenant agreements state how the notice must be delivered. If you submit it electronically, make sure to receive an acknowledgment of receipt.

Evictions with a tenancy at will

Evictions work very similarly whether or not someone has a lease. While there is no lease to violate with a tenancy at will, there may still be a written rental agreement with terms to follow. The renter must also continue to make rent payments and to follow local laws. Non-payment of rent is the most common reason for a landlord to evict someone who has a tenancy at will.

When evicting a tenant, a landlord must send the tenant an eviction notice, also known as a notice to quit. How many days notice the landlord must provide depends on either a written agreement with the tenant or local landlord-tenant law. In many cases, 30 days’ notice is necessary.

Tenancy at sufferance

A tenancy at sufferance is a situation where a lease expires and the tenant legally continues to live in the rental property until the landlord tells them to leave. A tenancy at sufferance is effectively a tenancy at will after the end of a lease. You may also see this type of agreement called a holdover tenancy or an estate at sufferance.

The landlord and renter must continue to honor their lease agreement, even though it has ended. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord can evict, just as they could have during the lease.

Another situation that may lead to a tenancy at sufferance is when a lease ends and the landlord plans to rent the property to someone else, but the tenant does not leave. This will require the landlord to begin the eviction process through the local court.