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Know Your Renters’ Rights: What Should You Do When Your Landlord Sells?

You’ve rented a new place, moved your stuff, changed your address, and adapted to your new commute. You probably think your life is set for at least a year. But if your landlord decides to sell the property, you could be evicted in as little as 30 days. This is why it’s important to understand your renters’ rights.

Here’s a case in point. Just two months after Joshua Keen, 38, moved into his five-bedroom, two-bath rental home in Atlanta, Georgia, his landlord gave him notice that it was being sold. He, his 9-year-old son, and his music studio would be kicked out in 60 days. “Honestly, it was the perfect place for us,” says Keen. “It’s a dirty thing to do to a tenant who (just) got settled in.”

If you find yourself in situation like Keen’s, you need to know your renters’ rights. We can help. Here are the first actions you can take if your landlord sells your current home.

Six Things You Need to Know About Renters’ Rights

  1. 1. Get the details in writing.

    The initial notice may be a phone call, but experts say if a landlord is kicking you out, they should provide this information in writing:

    • How much time you have to move out.
    • How much they will pay you for terminating your lease.
    • When you will get your security deposit back.
  2. 2. Know what you’re entitled to.

    Each state has unique landlord-tenant laws, as do some counties and cities. For example, in Colorado, the new owner of a rental property must honor existing contracts. In states like Georgia, the landlord is required to give renters who don’t have a lease 60 days’ notice before they evict.

    “We see the new landlords telling tenants they have to get out sooner than the law allows,” says Michael Lucas, deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.

    If the new property owner plans to continues your lease, be careful not to pay both landlords. Lucas says sometimes the former landlord comes around to collect rent if the new one doesn’t show up fast enough. Sometimes it’s out of greed; sometimes it’s sloppy record-keeping.

    You may also be entitled to cash. Athens, Georgia renter Serra Jaggar’s landlord paid her $1,500 — the equivalent of several months’ rent — to move out. But that’s only after she discovered that her renters’ rights gave her room to push back against their plans to renovate while she still lived there.

    The law stated that a landlord can’t make the property untenable, which meant that she had a right to peace and quiet. Other states, like Texas, refer to it as “quiet enjoyment.”

    “I told them that I knew my rights and didn’t back down, and they bought us out of our lease,” she says.

  3. 3. Negotiate to stay.

    When Kaylee Kerr and her roommate found out their home in metro Atlanta was being sold, she chatted up the new property manager while he was inspecting the condo.

    Kerr negotiated a month-to-month extension, and the rent stayed the same. Being proactive helped her wait to rent her next home — a cute carriage house in a historic Atlanta neighborhood that fit her budget and location needs.

    “You can have phone or face-to-face conversations with new owners, but be sure to get any decisions in writing,” says Joel Cohn, legislative director for the District of Columbia Office of the Tenant Advocate.

  4. 4. Buy it yourself.

    If you find out your home is on the market before it sells, you could try to buy it. In municipalities such as the District of Columbia, the current renter must be offered the opportunity to purchase.

    To be proactive, you could ask the landlord to put a clause in the lease that you have the right to purchase first, giving you first dibs if they decide to sell.

  5. 5. Strike a bargain.

    “If you’re in a position to move out before the eviction date, try negotiating a lower rent for that time,” Cohn says. “That way, you wouldn’t have to pay a full month’s rent while you’re also forking over money for a security deposit and first month’s rent at your new place.”

    “If you can be out in 15 days instead of 30, that should add some real value for the landlord,” Lucas says.

  6. 6. Seek outside help.

    If your landlord is selling, you can find help from state and city tenant unions, tenant councils and legal aid societies. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides state-by-state links to renters’ right handbooks, frequently asked questions and agencies offering assistance.

    If you’re forced to move in a hurry, tap into personal connections, such as real estate agents you know, online resources (like us!) and governmental agencies, like your city or state housing department. You can learn about homes for rent immediately, or determine if it’s time to buy a home.

    Throughout the process, Lucas recommends keeping open lines of communication with the landlord selling your place.

    “Even if you feel the landlord is not dealing with you as respectfully as you would like, still try to keep it as professional and above-the-board as possible,” he says. “That way, if and when you’re ready to push back and assert your renters’ right, you’ll have the best chance of getting a good resolution.”

Has your landlord sold your home? How did you fight back?