"Eviction" as a term of art

For owners and renters, the worst case scenario is a tenancy resulting in the "e" word. No one wants to be a part of eviction proceedings; recently, however, I've noticed people using the term "eviction" interchangably with "notice to vacate" or "non-renewal of lease". The difference between a full fledged eviction proceeding and an election to terminate a lease agreement is huge, so let's take a moment to break down what is actually taking place.

When owners and renters sign a lease agreement, both parties are accepting the risk that either party may elect to terminate the lease when the initial term has expired. Renters do this more frequently than landlords (which is understandable - the tenant may be moving, may have found a better or cheaper place to live, or may be buying a house). Therefore, not much thought is given to the reverse scenario - when an owner gives a renter a notice to vacate.

For some, such notice can come out of the blue, and it truly does feel like an eviction is taking place. Depending on the lease agreement you signed, you may only have 30 days to find a new place to live and prepare for a move - possibly during the school year, or in the middle of a particularly busy time at work. Furthermore, the letter notifying you that the lease term will expire does not need to provide you with a reason as to why the lease is set to expire.

However, unless you believe the owner is terminating your lease for retaliatory or other illegal reasons (a topic which will be discussed at a later date), you will be expected to vacate as of the end date of the lease agreement. So, how should you go about protecting yourself?

First, negotiate requirements regarding renewals in your lease before the lease is executed. How much advance notice would you like? 60 days? 90? It won't hurt to ask the owner if they're willing to accept such a requirement, though you should expect the opposite to hold as well. If the owner gives you a 60 day notice period, you most likely will need to give them a 60 day notice to vacate - and will be held responsible if you vacate prior to the end of the 60 day period.

Second, prepare to discuss a lease renewal a few months before the lease is set to expire. If you and the owner have a good relationship, you may be able to avoid an increase in the monthly rent payment by providing the security of an additional year of payments.

Third, ask the owner whether they intend to renew the lease. Get a response in writing if possible. Unless they are committed to renewing the lease, plan ahead accordingly.

Finally, check whether your lease will automatically renew for the same interval of time if neither party takes action to end the tenancy. Most year long leases state that at the end of the initial term, the tenancy switches to a month-to-month agreement. This provides greater flexibility but also greater risk of receiving a notice to vacate at any time. If you're sure you want to be at the property for an additional year, work to get a long term agreement signed.

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