Verbal Lease Termination? Late rent. Newbie Needs HELP

9 Replies

Hey all,

I just had my first tenant inform me that they will be "moving on". They informed me on the day that their new lease was due to be signed and returned to me (7/1). Additionally, they paid me the old rent amount... $200 short of the new amount. I gave them 45 days notice of the new lease and rent increase (5/15). I believe that I legally should have been given 30 days notice of termination by 6/1. This is a month-to-month / at-will tenancy (these are the same thing, right?)

Now, I just spoke with the tenant again and was told that it might not be until September that they move out. When we first spoke about their intent to leave, it was clearly stated that they would be moving out at the end of the month. They made it clear that they had spoken with Pine Tree Legal (big tenant advocate) who allegedly had advised them to only pay me the old rent amount and not sign the new lease.

In summary:

- The tenant did not sign the new lease for July nor give me any indication that they would be leaving.

- They stiffed me $200 (the difference between the old and new rent).

- They claim that their verbal termination doesn't count and that they can stay until the end of September because I haven't received a written notice to terminate.

How should I handle this?

I would obviously like to get the $200 that I'm owed (Am I owed that since they didn't sign the lease but did have 45 day notice??)

But if push comes to shove, I'd rather forfeit the $200 and get them out at the end of the month as pain-free as possible.

What should I do?

- Immediate Intent to Terminate notice? (anyone have a template?)

- Immediate Eviction Notice? (template??)

- Late rent notice?

Any advice from the veteran landlords out there would be appreciated!

Elliot:


I think you just learned the power of doing things in writing.  Fortunately, in the scheme of things, this isn't a big deal.

I'm not famiilar with Maine practices, nor am I a lawyer, but what your tenant did would be normal for a tenant on a month-to-month lease who does not want to sign a new 12 month lease.  I don't think you have a leg to stand on regarding the current months rent.  I would proceed with caution and legal counsel if you want to try to push him out.

Now, time to start putting things in writing.   You have several options assuming that Maine has a 30 day notification rules.

1)  You can notify the tenant that you are terminating his lease and he must move out by Aug 30

2) You can notify the tenant that he is welcome to stay on as a month-to-month tenant but his rent will increase by $300 (or more) as of September 1, or he can sign a 12 month at a $200 increase.

@Elliot A Tricky here as rent increases are supposed to be given 45 days in advance and in writing. I'm not sure a new proposed lease, even though it's clearly stated that there is a new rent amount, would hold up in court as qualifying as proper notice. 

I'm also curious what kind of language is contained in your lease about a "Holdover" tenant. Is there any clear direction there about what happens if a tenant stays beyond the initial lease term?

You're not going to get anywhere with an Immediate Termination notice or Immediate anything. I'd take whatever money they are willing to give you (accepting partial payments in ME is fine) and then hand them a 30 day notice. Reserve an FED court date for sometime after that 30 day period (allowing enough time for service of the summons etc) in case they don't leave. 

If you've never been through the process you probably want an attorney to help you with the first one. This is especially important if your tenants have Pine Tree on their side as they are the biggest bunch of snakes out there. They will find ANY misstep on your part and send the whole process back to the beginning. 

I delivered a 45 day written notice of rent increase and notice of new lease back on 5/15. It's my understanding that I should have been given 30 days notice if they were going to terminate the lease (I was not). So not only is the rent increase valid but they also didn't give me any notice that they would be leaving. Both the old and new leases are month-to-month. I don't see any provision in the old lease for "hold over".

Does the tenant's verbal termination and failure to sign the new lease qualify as terminating the existing lease and start the 30 day clock for their move out? It was my impression that they would have to be out by the end of the month since they declined to sign the new lease.

I want to do this the right way and I would rather have a clean exit then fight them on the $200 I'm owed.

If I issue a 30 day notice now, is their last day 30 days from today?


@Ryan Murdock Have any recommendations for an attorney down my way?

Thanks for the help

Welcome to landlording in Maine. It's a bummer that it's started off this way for you, but none of us manage to avoid these issues in our exceptionally tenant-friendly state. 

You're unlikely to get back any of the money you're owed. Like @Ryan Murdock mentioned, your best bet is to keep them paying you anything at all. We've had a non-paying tenant in one of our units before, and by the time we were able to evict her (for legit non-payment), we were out thousands of dollars (she also happened to be a client of the illustrious Pine Tree Legal... they will cost you money, no matter how perfectly you try to adhere to the rules). Take Ryan's advice re: legal assistance to start the eviction process. The notice of rent increase does not serve as a notice to terminate the prior lease (unless your lease has specific language otherwise), so you need to put that in writing (after getting legal advice and support) before you can start the eviction process for non-payment. 

As for complaints about leaving without notice... ha. We once had a tenant leave without even notifying us. We found out when the electric company called to put service back in our name. They just left. Landlords have almost no recourse in this instance other than to put the tenants into the collections process (we've never received a dime from anyone we've put in collections). 

Long story short... these issues are one of the major reasons we have a good, professional management company for our properties. They know the ins and outs of all of this stuff, and they are on top of it with all the necessary legal steps accounted for. 

I wish you the best of luck in this scenario. It's not fun, but you will learn a great deal. 

@Elliot B. If you serve the notice today I'd give it 30 days from tomorrow and don't accept rent for any period beyond the date which your notice expires. 

Make sure you follow the statute on notice service - 3 good faith attempts to serve in hand then if unsuccessful leave in door and mail a copy. Make sure your notice is correct and legal too. There's specific language that needs to be in there. 

If you are at all unsure - and it sounds like you are - either find an experienced landlord closer to you who can walk you through the process or call around and find an attorney who can help. I don't know of any in that area but no doubt they exist. Maybe someone else can chime in with a recommendation?

So in hind sight, I should have included language in my rent increase / new upcoming lease letter that explicitly stated that the prior lease will effectively terminate on the date the new lease takes effect?

I did include this language in my letter: "there will be a new lease from July 1 onward that all current tenants will be provided and be required to sign, unless they are not renewing their lease and intend to move." and also "If you will not be renewing your lease for July, you must inform us in writing as soon as possible and no later than June 1, 2018."

It seems like my course is action is to seek legal support, issue a proper 30 day termination notice, prepare for eviction but cross my fingers that it isn't necessary. The tenant has been civil so far (despite giving me no heads up) and is allegedly actively searching for a new apartment. Neither one of us wants to go to court.

Originally posted by @Elliot B. :

So in hind sight, I should have included language in my rent increase / new upcoming lease letter that explicitly stated that the prior lease will effectively terminate on the date the new lease takes effect?

I did include this language in my letter: "there will be a new lease from July 1 onward that all current tenants will be provided and be required to sign, unless they are not renewing their lease and intend to move." and also "If you will not be renewing your lease for July, you must inform us in writing as soon as possible and no later than June 1, 2018."

It seems like my course is action is to seek legal support, issue a proper 30 day termination notice, prepare for eviction but cross my fingers that it isn't necessary. The tenant has been civil so far (despite giving me no heads up) and is allegedly actively searching for a new apartment. Neither one of us wants to go to court.

I don't think the language in your letter gives you much legal standing. I'm not an attorney but there's no legal requirement for them to respond to any of that (unless there's language in your lease that states they must?).

Regardless, I've been to court enough times to know if there's any gray area at all you face a very real chance of losing. 

Different day, different judge, different bloodsucking Pine Tree attorney, whatever - all could result in a different outcome. 

That's why I choose to try and keep things as black and white as possible with actions that I can directly tie to a statute. 

"Haven't paid? Here's a 7 day notice. "

"I want you gone without cause? Here's your 30 day notice."

Outside either of those two things you really better hope the stars align in your favor in court and have an absolute airtight lease that backs up your actions.

I'd issue the 30 day notice (be civil, no need to further deteriorate the situation with hostility even if you would prefer to kill them...) and make the primary goal to just get your property back. 

In addition to Ryan's great advice, here's a thought. A $200 increase is huge. If they are otherwise good tenants, perhaps you could negotiate a new lease with a $100 increase.  You would spend at least $1200 on vacancy, turn over, and court anyway. 

@Elliot B. I would go down the road @Ryan Murdock has mentioned, if they are on a month to month lease be civil and hand them a 30 day notice. You do not need a reason for them to leave in Maine when they are month to month just 30 day notice. 

Get a lawyer to write one up for you if you know they have talked to Pine Tree Legal. 

One thing on the 30 day notice, if it hasn't been mentioned yet, is it starts at the end of the month they have paid for. July rent paid, they have till the end of August to leave. 

When I have a new lease that I want signed I do not leave the lease with the tenant unsigned, I go over it and have them sign it while I am there, if they can't sign then I ask when I can come back. I start this process 2 months out from end of current lease. 

And I agree with @Amy A. that is a healthy rent increase and I am a big fan of raising rent lol.