I don’t have a lease and I can’t afford the rent. The current landlord is selling. What can I do?

Q: I am in somewhat the same situation as the article you wrote about a new owner raising the rent on their existing tenant. In my case, the owner of my apartment died and their daughter is now selling the building in which we live. We’ve had a few showings and it looks like some of the interested buyers want to buy the building and tear it down. They’ll build something new and more expensive and I can’t afford to pay any more rent.

We had a lease with the owner that died but it expired and we never renewed the lease. At one time the owner told us that we could stay here for the rest of our lives. We are worried now because our lease was never renewed and that we might get kicked out after they sell the building. Do you have any advice for us?

Don’t have a lease? Verbal contracts aren’t valid in real estate

A: Verbal contracts don’t work when it comes to real estate. You have to write down the terms and conditions under which you will rent an apartment or house or purchase a home.

You had a lease for your rental apartment. Presumably, you’ve lived there a long time, perhaps a few years or perhaps a decade or longer. Unless your lease agreement had an automatic renewal built in, it’s likely that your lease turned into a month-to-month rental agreement.

Let’s say your original lease was for two years and had an automatic renewal unless either party gave sufficient written notice of termination. Then, it’s possible you still have a valid lease. But, it’s unlikely your agreement would have been constructed this way. Still, if you have a copy of that original agreement, you can pull it out and see what it says about the term and any lease renewals.

If you have a lease, look at the lease expiration and extension clauses

With a valid lease, you’re probably safe until the lease term expires and you get proper notice to vacate upon the expiration of the agreement. But if you have a month-to-month lease, it’s likely that the landlord will only give you 30 days to vacate the apartment. At that time, the landlord will have to return your security deposit (if you gave one).

Landlord/tenant rules or laws might provide protection for renters

States and communities regulate landlord/tenant leases in different ways. In Illinois, the Landlord and Tenant Act governs the interactions between landlords and their tenants, including:

  • What happens if a Class X felony is committed in a unit
  • How the changing or rekeying of a dwelling unit can take place
  • When security deposits can be forfeited.

Here’s what you should think about:

  • Check with your state and local municipality to see if there are any protections for renters. Your lease should comply with local laws.
  • Talk with the current owner to see what the timing would be for a sale. If the new owner plans to tear down the building, it might take several months for the owner to get approval required. Your local municipality will then have to approve new building plans. While that doesn’t solve your problem, it could give you some time to figure out next steps.
  • Verbal promises don’t mean much when it comes to leases. Unless you have something in writing from the prior owner (who died), it’s unlikely that his wish for you to live in the property until you die would hold up in court. As his heirs settle the estate, they will want to dispose of his property, including this building. You could speak with an attorney. However unless your lease agreement automatically renewed, you will likely wind up with an unhappy result.

Your former landlord probably didn’t want you to stay forever

One last thought: we don’t think it’s realistic to believe that your former landlord would want you to stay in the home without a rent increase for the rest of your lives. So that statement was more likely a wish, but one that required other assumptions.

While the owner may have wanted you to remain a tenant, they likely would have raised the rent regularly. Unless your former landlord stated in his will that you should be allowed to live in the home the rest of your life, your lease dictates what will happen.

We’re sure this isn’t the answer you were hoping for. Discuss the situation with the owner’s daughter and try to figure out where you want to move in the near future.

Read more about renters, leases and landlords:

I can’t afford my rent

Sell the farm or lease the land

Can a landlord terminate a lease?

Renting a home without seeing it

Is a rental property a good investment?

Preparing to rent your home

Renting or leasing

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