How can I be forced to sign a lease I already know I'm going to break?

The lease on my apartment is up at the end of this month. I have not signed a new one, but the manager of my apartment complex is expecting me to sign one (with an increase in rent) before the end of the month.

The thing is, I plan to move sometime early next year, definitely before the next lease is up. I asked the manager about alternatives to signing another year-long lease, but she said that there are none. If I give notice now that I want to leave March 1, that I’d have to sign a new year-long lease starting December 1st, and then pay a lease-break fee when it’s time to move, plus the additional rent until they rent the apartment to somebody else.

How can they do this? I read here that if I don’t sign a new lease before the new term starts, it becomes a month-to-month lease, which is what I want. And I think they should give it to me! I’ve lived here two years, and I haven’t given them any trouble. How can they force me to sign a new lease with the knowledge that I’ll be moving in a few months?

This is greed, pure and simple. I’m thinking about refusing to sign and daring them to evict me. I’ve always paid the rent on time, and I’ll continue to do so as long as I live here, I just don’t like being coerced into paying a penalizing contract I already know I’m going to break!

Have you checked with a local or state tenant union?

Doesn’t sound like they can evict you. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

Follow the guidelines given in the handbook that you linked to. Print out that page with the germane paragraphs highlighted, and include a copy of it with your written notice that you are not renewing your lease, but choose to continue your tenancy on a month-to-month basis.

A tenant union or advocacy group is a good idea, they can help you in many ways, including wording your written notice properly. They may have a template you can use. Plus they’ll have tons of experience dealing with landlords of all stripes and having them behind you will give you confidence in dealing with your own landlord.

Your building manager is either ignorant of the law, or is perhaps just trying to intimidate you. Either way, it’s not your problem.

Seems to me you have two choices.

  1. Sign the lease and then you have to pay the penelty when you leave.

  2. Go to month-to-month at which point they can raise the rent and/or kick you out with 30 days notice.*

Yeah, they aren’t being very nice but they are the owners of the building.


*This is not entirely accurate if you live in an area with rent control laws.

That citation of New Jersey rental law gives me a headache – it seems internally inconsistent. The only way I can make sense of it is that a landlord can’t get rid of a tenant who is willing to sign a lease, but * can * evict a tenant who is offered a reasonable lease and refuses to sign it. So even if the landlord wants you gone, they have to offer you a reasonable lease. But a reasonable lease probably includes one that is for a year-long term, thereby sticking you with the alternative of either getting evicted or making yourself responsible for the lease-break fee.

You do, possibly, have the loophole of arguing that such a lease is not reasonable in your case. (The rental areas I’m most familiar with are college towns, where the landlords want year-long leases to avoid getting stuck with empty apartments in the summer months. But I fail to see why a landlord would care one way or another in a non-college town in which, presumably, you have a constant flow of new potential tenants.)

You know, a lot depends on the market for apartments in your area. If the market is tight the landlord may not need or want to negotiate. However, if the market is weak, then she may be open to negotiations.

If it’s the latter, I’d do some calculations, and attempt to renegotiate with her. Use concrete examples instead of vague ones. (e.g. Saying “early next year” could mean January or it could mean May. That’s a big difference and the bottom line is that your landlord does not want an empty apartment or she’ll lose money.) Then make an appointment to see her.

Let’s assume your rent is $1000 a month. The penalty for breaking your lease is $1000. (Which is basically giving her 30 days to find a new tenant before she starts losing money on the property). Let’s also assume you will need the apartment through April, which is 5 months away.

You could say, “Mrs. X, I’ve been a good tenant for the last year. I’ve paid my rent on time and I am quiet and respectful to my neighbors. While I would like to sign another yearly lease, I know that I will be moving out at the end of April 2004. I am asking that you will extend my lease through then. I am willing to give you 60 days notice of my move in order to find a new tenant. I will also give you x dollars above the rental price in order to compensate for me not staying the full year.”

Good luck!

What if you just don’t sign it?

Also I like the idea of letting her know in writing that you intend to continue month to month and include the relivant sections of law.

IIRC it would take several months to evict you anyway, most likely you could stall till your move out date anyway.

I think (IANAL) that the part relevant to your case was:

You refuse to sign the new lease, you stay as a month-to-month tenant, but the landlord can evict you for not signing a new lease.


It costs a substantial sum of money to evict someone. It seems like it should be possible to negotiate something which would be mutually satisfactory. If the manager isn’t willing to bend, can you go over her head to the landlord or rental agency?

BTW, even though evicting someone takes several months, and can cost a lot of money, you really, really don’t want to have an eviction in your past. You might never be able to rent another apartment in your area again.

Doesn’t the first paragraph of the linked to page say this:

Seems to me that the law says you don’t have to sign anything in order for the lease to be considered renewed. Unless it is a small building as it says.

I don’t see what you feel is unfair. Yes, it sucks that you have two bad alternatives, and I sympathize with that, but how is that your landlord’s responsibility? Do you believe that you have the right to unilaterally decide how long the lease is?

You’re ignoring a key phrase in that quote: “…unless you or the landlord end your lease…” In other words, the landlord can tell you that she’s not renewing your lease, at which point, you gotta get outta Dodge.

If the renewal will be for a one-year lease, this is precisely the situation that cuauhtemoc wants to avoid, since moving out in 5 months would cost him a bundle. If the renewal is for a one-month lease, the landlord can decide, with 30 days’ notice, that she won’t renew it.

Either way, he loses. He can either accept a new one-year lease, break it in 5 months, and deal with the consequences, or go on a month-to-month lease, and have the landlord toss him out on 30 days’ notice.

Tenants have rights, but among them is not the right to force a landlord to accept whatever lease terms the tenant finds most convenient.

Of course your landlord can make you sign a lease or kick you out.

Think of housing as being just another service that is for sale. Some people sell the service in monthly chunks; some people sell the service in yearly chunks, or even multi-yearly chunks (as is common in commercial leases). What is unreasonable about allowing the person marketing the service to decide under what terms it will be offered?

Your landlord is not required to give you a month-to-month rental when the conditions under which the unit has been, is, and will be marketing is “yearly lease.” And while they cannot evict you without good cause, I think you will find that refusing to re-sign a lease is good cause. And your idea of just staying and seeing if they throw you out is a gamble; the site you linked to notes that if you stay and don’t re-sign, you are assumed to be re-upping under the same conditions as last time – which, in your case, means under a yearly lease. So even if you don’t sign anything, they can still attempt to charge you for breaking the lease when you move out (it’s just that the lease will not be written). (Note: The Statute of Frauds generally provides that a contract for a term greater than one year must be in writing, but there is usually no such provision of residential leases of one year or less.)

Well, you could renew now for a year and start looking for someone to take over the lease from you and then you’re both covered. That’s a pretty common occurrence here in Davis since the “Davis Model Lease” is also a one year stint.

Okay, to sum up, you have three choices. 1)You can either start looking for a place that will do a short-term lease and move at the end of the month. 2) You can sign the year lease and stay where you are. 3)You can refuse to sign the lease, try to stay where you are, and see what happens.

If you go with option 2, you have the option of sub-letting the place after you move. Of course, that leaves open the possibility that you might not be able to find someone to sublet the place. In that case the landlord would be fully justified in charging you all the fees and penalties associated with breaking your lease.

If you go with option 3, one of two things will happen. Your lease might go to the month-to-month type, in which case your landlord will give you notice on Dec. 1st that you have 30 days to get the hell out. That will leave you in the position of having to find a place that will do a short-term lease, and doing all of your house-hunting and moving during the holiday season. They might let you stay but start jacking the rent up considerably every month. If neither of you take specific steps to end the lease, it might be considered renewed for another year, which would put you right back to option 2.

I think you’re probably better off going with option 1 or 2.

My two cents:

I have no problem with the fact that the tenant cannot legally force the landlord into a month-to-month lease that is breakable at the convenience of the tenant but not the landlord.

I would also point out that in many areas, for example the greater Boston area, landlords frequently demand yearly leases because it is difficult to re-rent places in the middle of the academic year.

Here, I’m inclined to give the landlord the benefit of the doubt and assume it has a good reason to be wary of a lease that may end in 6 months. But if the landlord has no good reason, then he/she/it is being a jerk.

I am a Landlord and in my state (SC) the landlord/tenant act provides an implied month to month if you refuse to sign the lease. That means that not only can I give you a thirty-day notice to vacate, as can you (eviction would only cost $40 anyway) but I also have every right to charge you a month-to-month premium (my company policy ranges from $50 to $100 per month) but I can also, legally, raise your rent every 45 days with written notice. If you refuse to vacate as requested, not only will you be evicted, but you will be considered a “hold over tenant” and become liable for the hotel, storage and other costs incurred by the new tenants scheduled to move in after you vacate. My advice is to try to go month to month or suck it up, sign the new lease and pay the liquidated damages at the end. Sorry I can’t give you better news. Please feel free to email me if you need more advice, I’d be happy to help you work out a strategy. By the way, I do own a property management company and I’ve been licensed as a PM in my state for 15 years.