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Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

by Prince Of Petworth March 3, 2010 at 9:10 pm 33 Comments

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Photo from PoPville flickr user rosiedawn

Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. You can find previous questions featured here.

Has this every happened to anyone else?

Question:

I have been renting a condo unit for approximately the past year and a half. When I first started living there I signed a standard one-year lease with the landlord. After the first year I did not sign another lease, but continued living there and paying rent.

The real estate agent who helped me find the condo recently notified me by phone that the owner wants to sell the unit. I’m not especially distressed at the prospect of moving (I was going to move-out this summer anyway), but I am wondering what my rights are, and particularly how much time my landlord is required give me to find a new place to live. Do I need to allow him to show prospective buyers the unit while I live there?

My landlord and I have always been on good terms, but I’d like to make sure I know all my rights as a tenant in good standing before we move forward.

Answer:

If you stay in the condo after the expiration of your initial lease term, you are occupying the condo pursuant to a periodic tenancy. The periodic term is determined by the manner in which rent was due under your written lease. Assuming your lease called for you to pay rent on a monthly basis, you have a month-to-month tenancy. As the tenant, you can terminate your month-to-month tenancy upon providing 30 days written notice to the landlord. The 30 day period must expire on the first day of the month on which the tenancy commenced. For example, if you wanted to terminate the tenancy effective May 1, you would have to provide written notice of the termination to your landlord by April 1. Even though the lease agreement has expired under its own terms, the periodic tenancy will be subject to all of the terms and conditions in the original lease (except, of course, the expiration date of the lease term). Continues after the jump.

Although the notice period that a tenant must comply with in order to terminate a month-to-month tenancy is fairly straightforward, a landlord in D.C. has very limited rights to terminate a tenancy. The Rental Housing subchapters of the D.C. Code provide that a landlord cannot evict a tenant, notwithstanding the expiration of the tenant’s lease or rental agreement, except in the case of very specific circumstances. One example of an exception would be where the landlord has entered into a contract to sell the rental property to someone who intends to use it for immediate and personal use. In such case, the landlord would have to give the tenant a 90 day notice to vacate in advance of the landlord’s action to recover possession of the apartment. The 90 day notice period would commence after the expiration all of the notice periods provided for in D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

If a landlord did not want to sell its rental property but just wanted to terminate the existing tenancy, the landlord could raise the rent on the rental property once the lease agreement expires (assuming the property is not subject to D.C.’s Rent Stabilization Program), which might force the tenant to leave on his or her own accord. However, a landlord is not permitted to raise the rent in retaliation against a tenant.

Regarding your concern that your landlord may want to show the condo to prospective purchasers, you will need to examine your lease agreement to see if it provides the landlord with the right to do so. The D.C. courts have held that unless authorized by the express or implied terms of the lease agreement, a landlord may not interfere with a tenant’s right to exclusively occupy a rental property for purposes of marketing it for sale or rent without breaching the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment in the lease agreement.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

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