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How COVID-19 affects month-to-month rental agreements
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How COVID-19 affects month-to-month rental agreements

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Q: If you rent on a month-to-month basis, can the owner terminate the lease during the COVID-19 pandemic? And, if the landlord does notify a tenant that the landlord elects to terminate the lease, can the landlord simply notify the tenant of the termination and give them 30 days’ notice? Is this the right way to do it?

A: In a month-to-month lease, both a tenant and a landlord can give notice to the other that they elect to terminate the arrangement at any time and for any reason. Usually, the only thing the tenant or landlord needs to do is give the other at least one month notice in advance. If you want to terminate the lease at the end of August, you’ll need to give notice not later than the end of July.

When either tenants or landlords want to keep an arrangement for a longer period of time, they sign a lease that specifies a termination date in the future. In residential leases, most landlords and tenants agree to one-year terms. On the other hand, if either party does not want to be tied down in the arrangement, they can simply elect to create a month-to-month tenancy in which either party can terminate the arrangement on a month's notice.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some municipalities and states to pass temporary rules that prohibit landlords from evicting tenants and also restrict landlords from giving tenants termination notices.

If you’re the tenant, you can let your landlord know that you plan to terminate your lease, give your landlord a month’s notice and move out at the end of the month following the notice. But, if you’re a landlord, you may have a limited ability to tell a tenant to move out even if you have a month-to-month lease.

Likewise, if your landlord has a federally backed mortgage, the landlord may have had the obligation to pause evictions.

There are other ongoing changes related to COVID-19 that may limit some rights landlord’s generally have to terminate leases or evict tenants. You’ll need to talk to a real estate attorney in your area to figure out if the town, county, state or federal government rules regarding COVID-19 impact your property and your lease.

Landlords and tenants may also want to visit EvictionLab.org, which is a website listing the changing eviction and utility shutoff moratoria policies across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources include links to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies, as well as state and local resources.

(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.)

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